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What can foreign investors do when China’s “golden age” ends?

golden age in China, China's market,foreign companies


Multinational executives are slowly drifting back to Beijing from their summer holidays abroad. Their mood is generally glum — and not just because of the pollution that has blighted China's capital over recent months, after what had been a glorious spring.          

在北京,前往国外度暑假的跨国公司高管正陆续返回。他们大都心情郁闷,不仅仅是因为近几个月一直困扰中国首都的污染问题——在过了一个明媚的春天之后。

 

As one recent returnee said last week, it felt "tragic" watching his three daughters' tans and sun-bleached hair fade as they were forced to play indoors day after day.         

正如近期归来的一名高管上周所言,眼看着自己三个女儿因为只能成天在室内活动,度假时晒得黝黑的皮肤逐渐褪色,原本变淡了的发色失去光泽,感觉很"可悲"。

 

Pestered by exasperated spouses and cabin-fevered children, multinational executives will unfortunately find little escape at the office. There, they are under increasing pressure to squeeze more profits from an economy growing at its slowest annual rate in a quarter-century.   

不幸的是,这些被心烦的配偶和憋在屋内的孩子缠身的跨国公司高管也无法享受办公室的宁静。在这里,要设法从增速为四分之一个世纪以来最慢的经济中获得更多利润,他们身负的压力越来越大。

 

Whether they are selling fast-moving consumer goods or premium cars, companies used to double-digit revenue and profit growth in China are suddenly reporting year-on-year increases in the mid to low single digits — if not worse.          

不论是销售快速消费品还是高档汽车,已经习惯于在华收入和利润两位数增长的跨国公司,突然间年增长率降到了个位数的中低区间——如果不是更糟的话。

 

"For foreign companies that depend on China, 3 per cent sales growth just doesn't cut it," says Andrew Polk, Beijing-based economist for the Conference Board.        

世界大型企业联合会(Conference Board)驻北京经济学家安德鲁•波尔克(Andrew Polk)说:"对于依赖中国的外企来说,3%的销售增长是根本不够的。"

       

Early next month, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China will release its annual white paper on business conditions. It was the first organisation to frame the zeitgeist last year, when its president proclaimed the end of what had been a "golden age" for foreign investors.

下月初,中国欧盟商会(European Union Chamber of Commerce in China)将发布关于中国商业环境的年度白皮书。欧盟商会主席去年就曾宣告,外国投资者在中国的"黄金时代"结束了,使该商会成为首个表达此类观点的组织。

 

In their briefings, both the European chamber and its US counterpart now tend to accentuate the negative in China, ruing everything from persistent market barriers to heavy handed anti-monopoly investigations.           

在它们发布的简报中,欧盟商会和美国商会如今都倾向于强调中国的所有负面因素——从顽固的市场壁垒,到严厉的反垄断调查。

       

Some even believe the Chinese government's unprecedented anti-corruption campaign — and the sobering example of GlaxoSmithKline, the UK pharmaceutical company brought low by a corruption scandal at its China operations — have failed to put an end to corporate graft.          

有人甚至认为,中国政府空前的反腐运动——以及英国制药公司葛兰素史克(GlaxoSmithKline)因在华业务腐败丑闻而遭受打击的令人警醒的案例——并未能刹住企业贪腐风气。

 

"Little has really changed," said two corruption experts, Nick Blank and Frank Hong, in a recent report based on interviews with security managers at multinationals. "In the past, employees would skim expense accounts in order to get cash for bribery payments . . . these days they are still skimming but keeping the cash for themselves."       

"几乎没有发生什么真正的改变,"研究腐败问题的专家尼克•布兰克(Nick Blank)和Frank Hong在最近一份根据采访跨国公司经理结果撰写的报告中说。"过去,员工会虚报费用,以便拿到现金用于贿赂……如今,他们仍然会虚报,只是自己留下了那些现金。"

 

Amid such gloom, however, there is a more optimistic case to be made for China's corporate prospects. It is one that rests principally on the entrepreneurial dynamism of the country's private sector companies.             

然而,在这种悲观气氛中,有一个理由让人对中国的企业前景感到乐观——主要基于中国私营部门企业的创业活力。

 

One case in point is Fincera, a Chinese transportation services company based in Shijiazhuang, the province of Hebei.           

中国运输服务企业开元金融(Fincera)就是一个很好的例子, 位于石家庄,河北省的省会。

 

Founded in 1994, Fincera grew into a nationwide truck leasing company — a business that feels the effects of economic slowdowns sooner than most. It also faced intense competition from thousands of local "mom-and-pop" leasers, many of them essentially family operations with better connections to area drivers and very low cost bases. It was a situation not unlike that encountered by multinationals that compete against large state-owned groups.         

成立于1994年的开元金融已经发展为一家全国性的卡车租赁公司——这一行比多数其他行业更早地感受到了经济放缓的影响。该公司也面临着来自当地数千家从事相同租赁业务的"夫妻店"的激烈竞争,后者中许多实际上是家庭经营,与区域司机关系更好,成本很低。这样的处境与跨国公司有些相似,后者需要与大型国有集团竞争。

 

But, as Fincera watched its margins erode, its management team had an epiphany. As a relatively large business with 550 locations and annual revenues of Rmb1.4bn ($220m), the company had access to something its truck driver clients and mom-and-pop rivals did not: state bank loans. Fincera reckoned it could make more money developing web-based financing platforms for such clients.     

但是,随着利润被侵蚀,开元金融的管理团队早已醒悟。作为一家规模较大、拥有550个营业网点、年收入14亿元人民币(约合2.2亿美元)的企业,开元金融拥有其卡车司机客户和小型家庭竞争对手并不具备的一个优势——它能够获得国有银行贷款。开元金融认为,面向此类客户开发基于网络的融资平台,它可以赚更多的钱。 

 

Fincera's reincarnation is just beginning and, even if successful, one company does not an economic revival make. But it offers two heartening lessons for multinationals.

开元金融的转型才刚刚开始,即使成功了,一家公司也无法让经济复苏。但它为跨国公司带来了两点鼓舞人心的启示。

 

First, there is a plethora of such market gaps in China. For example, the country has a private jet sector that has not even begun to take off. Multinational car companies are also exploring opportunities in a similarly under-developed automotive leasing industry.          

首先,在中国存在大量此类"市场空白"。例如,中国的私人飞机行业甚至还未开始起飞。在同样没有得到充分发展的汽车租赁业,有些跨国公司正在探索机会。

 

Second, even when multinationals cannot rush into such vacuums themselves, many are being tapped by dynamic private companies.           

第二,在跨国公司不能涌入这些真空领域时,富有活力的私营企业正进入其中一些领域挖掘潜力。

 

Multinational executives should also remember that Beijing will soon implement pollution controls ahead of the upcoming world athletics championships and military parade for the 70th anniversary of Japan's second world war surrender. So there is still a chance their children may briefly recapture that healthy summer glow.             

跨国公司高管也应该记住,在即将举行的世界田径锦标赛以及纪念日本二战投降70周年大阅兵到来之前,北京很快将实施污染控制措施。因此,他们的孩子仍有机会短暂地恢复夏日的健康活力。

2016-06-24

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