Image of Barney Jopson

Barney Jopson

Barney Jopson is the FT's US Retail Correspondent. He was previously the paper's Assistant Emerging Markets Editor and prior to that worked as East Africa Correspondent, Financial Correspondent and Tokyo Correspondent.

For tourists at the Tenampa bar in Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square, it’s a tradition to test your endurance on an electric shock machine that sends a rising current buzzing through your body.

The men with the battery-powered shock boxes, or toques, say they are harmless, but Mexico’s tourism minister doesn’t want to attract Americans to zap their bodies. She wants to heal them – at top-notch hospitals that are cheaper than in the US. 

Among global consumer businesses, the move into China’s lesser-known big cities has been a bandwagon not to be missed. But VF Corporation – the owner of brands including North Face, Wrangler and Timberland – is showing there’s an upside to being late to the game: it makes it easier to keep sales growing even as China’s economy slows down.

While Burberry and others have already shown the ill-effects of a slower China in their results, VF on Thursday reported accelerating sales growth. Its China revenues rose by 30 per cent in the past quarter, exceeding growth of 20 per cent in the previous quarter

It ain’t about any (alleged) bribery. It’s about the boxes. That’s the word from Walmart, the big box retail behemoth, on why it’s slowing down new store openings in China, where it’s been struggling.

As allegations of bribery in Mexico hang over its annual meeting on Friday, a top Walmart executive said it was cooling expansion in China to make sure it could find plain old box-shaped stores, which shoppers like, and no geometrical oddities. 

Avon Products’ problems with order processing and a stale product line up in Brazil have been well documented, but they have not eclipsed its one big attraction in the eyes of a suitor that emerged this week: distribution.

Bart Becht, chairman of Coty, the fragrance group that launched an unsolicited $10bn bid for Avon on Monday, told beyondbrics that Avon’s network of door-to-door sellers was a big prize in a country where cosmetics are still dominated by direct sales. 

It’s not easy convincing investors that your brand-new country is worth backing. Last July, Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president, was in New York to mark his newly-independent country’s admission to the United Nations. As he did so as the oil wealth that provides 98 per cent of state revenue was flowing fast.

Today that oil flow is frozen due to a dispute with its neighbours in Sudan. So to reduce its vulnerability to such troubles Machar has been back to New York to fire up South Sudan’s search for American investment. But did anyone bite? 

Walmart is ready to consider buying local retailers in China to expand into uncharted provinces as it seeks to rid its China business of its status as a laggard in its emerging market operations.

Speaking about acquisitions at an investor conference, Cathy Smith, chief financial officer of Walmart’s international business, said: “There are whole provinces in China that we haven’t even begun to think about, so we would think about those kind of things there.” 

The growing presence of Chinese travellers on the luxury shopping circuit of the US and Europe is well known, but catering to ordinary Chinese and the country’s growing band of super rich are two different things, as the FT reports.

The wealthy don’t want bus tours and showy logos. Instead they are looking for VIP treatment and knowledge about the history and manufacturing of luxury brands. But China experts say there is also a dark side. 

After working its way down the computer supply chain for weeks, the impact of Thailand’s disastrous floods has reached one distant end point: the US consumer.

As Americans prepare to go holiday shopping, at least one Costco store in New Jersey is restricting sales of hard disk drives due to the “significant supply reduction” caused by flood damage at Thai component makers

Procter & Gamble (PG:NYQ) has faced persistent gripes from investors for not being big enough in emerging markets: it has annual EM sales of $27bn, but they contribute a lower proportion of its revenues than at rivals such as Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive.

While catching up entails a lot of hurdles, Bob McDonald, chairman and chief executive of the US consumer goods giant, says competition from domestic rivals in emerging markets is not one of them. 

Indian employees polish fruit before placing it on shelves as they prepare the Reliance Fresh Store Outlet in Hyderabad, 02 November 2006.A consensus seems to be emerging in India that foreign direct investment in retail could help the country tackle many problems – from rampant inflation to the wastage of rotten food – and an optimistic Walmart appears to be feeling that change too.

The US giant, the world’s biggest retailer by sales, has just expressed confidence that India will “ultimately” loosen restrictions on foreign investors that are currently limiting its presence in one of the biggest untapped retail markets. 

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest maker of consumer goods, racked up a whopping $79bn of sales last year and its globe-trotting boss, Bob McDonald, has a similarly big repertoire of tricks for making personal connections with people from all over.

But at a meeting with foreign journalists in New York he used a curious subject to make both some connections and a point about the limits of global innovation. He started discussing people’s hair. 

The growing influence of emerging economies on product innovation has reached the clothing sector, with Levi Strauss’s announcement that it will bring a brand of jeans nurtured in China to the US – and much sooner than expected.

The FT reports on the significance of the move here. During the eight-month test run of its Denizen brand in Asia, Levi’s picked up some revealing insights into how fashion works in the world’s emerging economies. 

As one Hong Kong banker told beyondbrics recently, “Mongolia is the only game in town”. And soon, gung-ho investors may get a new way to play it. The resource-rich country, forecast by one bank to be the world’s fastest-growing emerging market in coming years, wants to raise $500m in its first dollar bond sale.

This is not the first time it’s floated the idea. But it’s the first time it has the attention of so many bankers and investors. 

Investors and brokers in Egypt began the week frantically preparing for the Cairo stock exchange to reopen on Tuesday after a month-long shut down – but all to no avail. Word came overnight that the restart, scheduled for 10.30am in Cairo (8.30am in London), had been delayed once more, this time until Sunday 6 March.

Everyone expects prices to fall when trading finally does begin, but it seems that the authorities want to keep deferring the pain. 

So captivated is global business by India’s expanding middle-class that it is lavishing a never-ending stream of new products and services on it. Now Dunkin’ Donuts is joining the parade.

It said on Thursday that it would open its first doughnut and coffee shop in India early next year. But it is likely to face increasingly stiff competition in a coffee market where Starbucks has said it will open its first store in the first half of this year.