Dr Johnny Hon, Chairman – the Global Group
The Chinese market is still growing at a healthy pace, offering considerable opportunity for Western businesses and investors.
I set up venture capital, angel investment and strategic consultancy, the Global Group, a little over 20 years ago, to facilitate business and commercial opportunities between the East and West. As the Chairman and Founder, I have always tried to ensure the company has lived true to its motto – ‘Bridging the New Frontiers’ and kept its goal of encouraging and facilitating positive China-UK relations at the forefront.
Over the last two decades, I have seen opportunities for collaboration between Chinese and Western businesses diversify and increase hugely.
There is a widespread assumption that the Chinese market is easy to enter because of its mass consumer base, with a population of some 1.3 billion, including a rapidly growing middle class, already several hundred million strong. However, this on its own is far too simplistic a view. Rather, it is crucial that you conduct thorough due diligence to understand this most complex of markets, if you want your venture to be successful. Understanding business and cultural etiquette is vital. You must find the right business partner, one you can trust and who will help you to navigate the nuances and mores of the Chinese market.
China is a vast country and its cities offer a variety of business opportunities that run the whole gamut of sectors. Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are renowned as international business hubs but these markets can be overly saturated and do not necessarily offer the best opportunity for a company considering China entry, unless you are already a well-established international brand.
Businesses should keep an open and enquiring mind and also consider some of China’s second, third and fourth tier cities. Many of these actually have populations in the millions, bigger than some European capitals, or even countries, and, with their own unique characteristics, are contributing to the growth and development of the Chinese economy.
Wuhan, for example, which is twinned with Manchester, has an annual growth rate of 10.5% and has become a vital industrial and financial hub for central China.
In 2012, China became the world’s leading trading nation and its import market has continued to grow over the last few years, as the country opens up more and more. A fast-growing area of opportunity is within the luxury market, where there is an increasing demand for international brands. The expanding middle class are an increasingly discerning market, looking for world-class quality. Not only are purchases of heritage brands and luxury products booming, high-end leisure services and activities, including outbound tourism, are also increasingly sought after.
Looking to the food and drink sector, China has become the largest market for red wine, overtaking France. As the demand increases, and Chinese appetites grow and tastes develop, it is expected that white wines and champagne will also become more popular, just as the somewhat earlier taste for French brandy is now complemented by that for Scotch whisky.
Despite this huge appetite for foreign goods, there is no guarantee that an import will prove successful. It is important to do your research and gauge market trends before expanding overseas.
Technology is a sector that is growing rapidly in China and offers a huge number of opportunities for businesses looking to expand into the region. China is fast becoming a global leader in FinTech, including mobile payments and e-commerce. In fact, Chinese cities are the world leaders in the transition to cashless consumer economies, as mobile payments surge at a rate unparalleled by any other country.
FinTech is not only an investment opportunity for those looking to expand into China, it also facilitates global business, especially in terms of cross-border transactions, making them more timely and efficient.
The technology market in China is intensely competitive, and in order to take good advantage of the opportunities, you must ensure that you have a strong concept and a business plan that works. If possible, it is best to test any new technology in the UK or another developed market prior to trying to expand into China.
The UK-China FinTech Alliance, launched by BGTA, with its trusted, single-entry point, could be a great gateway to the technology market in China. This alliance is intended to act as a strong support system for the established UK FinTech sector and its rapidly growing Chinese counterparts.
If your concept is successful in the UK, it puts you in a stronger position for when you take your idea abroad – whether it’s in FinTech, fine wine or any sector in-between. You can show potential investors that your business model works and that there is appetite and space for your concept in the market.
Ultimately, China offers manifold opportunities for business considering overseas growth. However, it is vital that anyone considering China does their homework and is fully aware of the unique and complex features of this market and not assume that success is guaranteed.
China is open for business but you really need to work at it.
Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output
By Ahmad Ghaddar
LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy firms began to prepare for restarting oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Brent crude futures were down $1.16, or 1.8%, to $62.77 per barrel, by 1150 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.42, or 2.4%, to $59.10 a barrel.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to analysts.
Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.
However, firms in the region on Friday were expected to prepare for production restarts as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.
“The market was ripe for a correction and signs of the power and overall energy situation starting to normalise in Texas provided the necessary trigger,” said Vandana Hari, energy analyst at Vanda Insights.
Oil fell despite a surprise fall in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]
The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
While the thawing relations could raise the prospect of reversing sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration, analysts did not expect Iranian oil sanctions to be lifted anytime soon.
“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon said.
(Additional reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Jason Neely)
Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies
By Douglas Busvine and Christoph Steitz
BERLIN (Reuters) – The semiconductor crunch that has battered the auto sector leaves carmakers with a stark choice: pay up, stock up or risk getting stuck on the sidelines as chipmakers focus on more lucrative business elsewhere.
Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors have cut output as the chip market was swept clean by makers of consumer electronics such as smartphones – the chip industry’s preferred customers because they buy more advanced, higher-margin chips.
The semiconductor shortage – over $800 worth of silicon is packed into a modern electric vehicle – has exposed the disconnect between an auto industry spoilt by decades of just-in-time deliveries and an electronics industry supply chain it can no longer bend to its will.
“The car sector has been used to the fact that the whole supply chain is centred around cars,” said McKinsey partner Ondrej Burkacky. “What has been overlooked is that semiconductor makers actually do have an alternative.”
Automakers are responding to the shortage by lobbying governments to subsidize the construction of more chip-making capacity.
In Germany, Volkswagen has pointed the finger at suppliers, saying it gave them timely warning last April – when much global car production was idled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that it expected demand to recover strongly in the second half of the year.
That complaint by the world’s No.2 volume carmaker cuts little ice with chipmakers, who say the auto industry is both quick to cancel orders in a slump and to demand investment in new production in a recovery.
“Last year we had to furlough staff and bear the cost of carrying idle capacity,” said a source at one European semiconductor maker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“If the carmakers are asking us to invest in new capacity, can they please tell us who will pay for that idle capacity in the next downturn?”
The auto industry spends around $40 billion a year on chips – about a tenth of the global market. By comparison, Apple spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling reckons.
Moreover, the chips used in cars tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries – hardly the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.
“The suppliers are saying: ‘If we continue to produce this stuff there is nowhere else for it to go. Sony isn’t going to use it for a Playstation 5 or Apple for its next iPhone’,” said Asif Anwar at Strategy Analytics.
Chipmakers were surprised by the panicked reaction of the German car industry, which persuaded Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to write a letter in January to his counterpart in Taiwan to ask its semiconductor makers to supply more chips.
No extra supplies were forthcoming, with one German industry source joking that the Americans stood a better chance of getting more chips from Taiwan because they could at least park an aircraft carrier off the coast – referring to the ability of the United States to project power in Asia.
Closer to home, a source at another European chipmaker expressed disbelief at the poor understanding at one carmaker of how it operates.
“We got a call from one auto maker that was desperate for supply. They said: Why don’t you run a night shift to increase production?” this person said.
“What they didn’t understand is that we have been running a night shift since the beginning.”
NO QUICK FIX
While Infineon, the leading supplier of chips to the global auto industry, and Robert Bosch, the top ‘Tier 1’ parts supplier, both plan to commission new chip plants this year, there is little chance of supply shortages easing soon.
Specialist chipmakers like Infineon outsource some production of automotive chips to contract manufacturers led by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), but the Asian foundries are currently prioritising high-end electronics makers as they come up against capacity constraints.
Over the longer term, the relationship between chip makers and the car industry will become closer as electric vehicles are more widely adopted and features such as assisted and autonomous driving develop, requiring more advanced chips.
But, in the short term, there is no quick fix for the lack of chip supply: IHS Markit estimates that the time it takes to deliver a microcontroller has doubled to 26 weeks and shortages will only bottom out in March.
That puts the production of 1 million light vehicles at risk in the first quarter, says IHS Markit. European chip industry executives and analysts agree that supply will not catch up with demand until later in the year.
Chip shortages are having a “snowball effect” as auto makers idle some capacity to prioritize building profitable models, said Anwar at Strategy Analytics, who forecasts a drop in car production in Europe and North America of 5%-10% in 2021.
The head of Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery, forecasts capacity constraints will affect carmakers until mid-year.
“Up to the end of the second quarter, the industry will have to manage at the lean inventory level,” Chery told a recent Goldman Sachs conference.
(Douglas Busvine from Berlin and Christoph Steitz from Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Gillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)
Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets
By Tommy Wilkes
LONDON (Reuters) – The Australian dollar rose to near a three-year high and the British pound scaled $1.40 for the first time since 2018 on optimism about economic rebounds in the two countries and after the U.S. dollar was knocked by disappointing jobs data.
The U.S. currency had been rising in recent days as a jump in Treasury yields on the back of the so-called reflation trade drew investors. But an unexpected increase in U.S. weekly jobless claims soured the economic outlook and sent the dollar lower overnight.
On Friday it traded down 0.3% against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 90.309.
The Aussie rose 0.8% to $0.784, its highest since March 2018. The currency, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, has been helped by a recent rally in commodity prices.
The New Zealand dollar also gained, and was not far off a more than two-year high, while the Canadian dollar rose too.
Sterling rose to $1.4009 on Friday, an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination programme.
Given the size of Britain’s vital services sector, analysts say the faster it can reopen the economy, the better for the currency. Sterling was also helped by better-than-expected purchasing managers index flash survey data for February.
The U.S. dollar has been weighed down by a string of soft labour data, even as other indicators have shown resilience, and as President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief efforts take shape, including a proposed $1.9 trillion spending package.
Despite the recent rise in U.S. yields, many analysts think they won’t climb too much higher, limiting the benefit for the dollar.
“Our view remains that the Fed will hold the line and remain very cautious about tapering asset purchases. We think it will keep communicating that tightening is very far off, which should dampen pro-dollar sentiment,” said UBS Global Wealth Management strategist Gaétan Peroux and analyst Tilmann Kolb.
ING analysts said “the rise in rates will be self-regulating, meaning the dollar need not correct too much higher”.
They see the greenback index trading down to the 90.10 to 91.05 range.
The euro rose 0.4% to $1.2134. The single currency showed little reaction to purchasing manager index data, which showed a slowdown in business activity in February. However, factories had their busiest month in three years, buoying sentiment.
The dollar bought 105.39 yen, down 0.3% and a continued retreat from the five-month high of 106.225 reached Wednesday.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)
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