Asia

News that Ikea is rolling out an online shopping platform in China – its first in the Asia-Pacific region – could be a sign that Western retailers are at last reacting to rising costs and shifts in consumer shopping behaviour. But what has taken them so long?

Despite operating online models successfully in the UK and other parts of Northern Europe, it has taken Ikea seven years to get to a similar point in China. With stores in major cities including Shanghai and Beijing, Ikea has followed a similar strategy to many other Western retailers; investing in bricks and mortar outlets in China’s thriving tier 1 and 2 cities.

However, consumer demand has been growing right across China and while rising costs remain an issue, Western retailers urgently need a strategy to develop this market potential. Read more

The Yangon Stock Exchange, reactivated several months ago after the civilian government headed by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took office, now has a handful of listings like neighbours Cambodia and Laos, where Japanese ownership and technical assistance were also instrumental in startups.

Myanmar’s political transition has already departed from the other two countries’ model of single-party authoritarian rule despite regular elections, but the economic paths overlap. Investors remain wary of heavy state control and direction as they await elaboration of the majority National League for Democracy’s modernisation and stabilisation platform and implementation steps. Foreign buyers have not yet been permitted, despite urging from bilateral and multilateral donors and Japan’s Daiwa Securities, involved in stock market efforts for two decades. Without bolder vision, early enthusiasm for a new frontier destination will wane, repeating the next-door pattern. Read more

As anyone who reads these pages knows, China’s growth has slowed and its economy is, little by little, rebalancing away from investment and towards consumption. Yet many are also left scratching their heads by news that sales of a wide range of consumer products, from luxury cars to cheap local beer, are so sluggish. If consumption is so strong, why can’t we see it? The answer is simple: people are looking in the wrong places. Both high-end and low-end retail are faring poorly. But look at the middle tier, and the story could scarcely be more different. This is where the consumption boom is unfolding.

Start with the luxury segment. Its best days could well be over. Luxury consumption is slowing, weighed down by a decelerating economy, the ongoing crackdown on corruption and the ‘commodification’ of luxury goods — that is, the idea that Chinese buyers no longer see them as so special or unique. China’s luxury spending contracted for the very first time in 2014. This was just the tipping point. In 2015, Swiss watch exports to Hong Kong, a bellwether of Chinese luxury buying, fell 23 per cent. The sales of Rolls-Royce cars tumbled 54 per cent in China that same year. Read more

By Anthony Chan, Brad Gibson, Jenny Zeng, AllianceBernstein

Issues coming to a head in China’s corporate sector require its government to decide how much freedom to allow the markets and private business. The risk? That policymakers will duck the issues, leaving the economy to drift.

Let’s take a deeper dive into three notable developments that serve as a guide to the direction of China’s economy and its reform agenda.

Default Dilemma
Dongbei Special Steel (DSS)— a steelmaker majority-owned by the Liaoning provincial government— recently defaulted on a Rmb64.4m ($9.6m) interest payment on a privately placed Rmb870m bond issue. DSS is a serial offender: the company has defaulted on seven bonds, totaling Rmb4.8bn in principal. Read more

By Kevin P. Gallagher, Boston University

The Western-backed Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) are talking a lot about moving ‘from billions to trillions’ of dollars to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement that aim to shift the world economy to a low-carbon and more socially inclusive and equitable future.

The MDBs talk the talk but do not walk the walk given that they have not increased their paid-in capital to meet the ambitious goals of the SDGs. By contrast, China’s development banks have been doing the walking—but not quite in the right direction. As it hosts the G-20 in September, China is poised to match words and action on sustainable development. Read more

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is pushing to speed up infrastructure investment after pledging to build roads, railways and ports to support growth.

He is hampered by one of the weakest tax takes in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a fiscal deficit that is dangerously close to Indonesia’s ceiling of 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

Disappointing tax collection, exacerbated by weak commodity prices, has been a significant factor in the deterioration of Indonesia’s public finances. Infrastructure investment, meanwhile, has trailed economic expansion since the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, resulting in expensive business disruption and high logistical costs. Read more

By Raffaello Pantucci and Anna Sophia Young

The vast Chinese northwestern frontier region of Xinjiang may serve as a useful early indicator of how Beijing’s much-touted “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) is supposed to work – and how successful it may become.

The region, which is home to several muslim minority peoples, has been wracked by ethnic turmoil for decades, prompting Beijing to seek to nurture social stability by driving economic development through hefty investments.

But for this strategy to gain traction, Beijing realised that it needed to boost development in the region around Xinjiang by building commercial corridors to neighbouring Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Thus, Xinjiang was key motivator behind the BRI concept. Read more

At the tip of the teardrop of India, as Sri Lanka is often described, lies the Thalsevana Holiday Resort. From here you could once walk to India over 30 miles of limestone shoals.

Long since washed over by the Palk Strait, its silver shoreline and turquoise waters make this an idyllic spot to contemplate the passage of time. In an area ravaged by nearly three decades of civil war, the first green shoots of tourism and economic regeneration are starting to appear. Read more

Liao Min, China Banking Regulatory Commission

Amid increasing concern about risks in China’s banking sector, the latest banking data from Shanghai tells a story of resilience. The region’s non-performing loan (NPL) ration has declined for eight consecutive months to 0.79 per cent at the end of June, much lower than the 1.81 per cent ratio for China’s commercial banks as a whole. Outstanding NPLs shrank by Rmb3.6bn since the beginning of 2016.

Special-mention loans — a classification for loans that might be at risk of becoming NPLs — also decreased in Shanghai, both in volume terms and as a ratio of total loans. Thus, it’s clear that NPL figures aren’t being manipulated by hiding bad loans in the special-mention category.

 Read more

Kevin Martin, HSBC

Don’t underestimate the Asean consumer.

Yes, there are only about half as many of them as there are in China or India. And the typical shopper in the ten-member Association of South East Asian Nationsis not as wealthy as Mr. or Ms. Europe.

But as a whole, Asean’s 620m-plus inhabitants are an increasingly powerful source of global demand, and a potential game-changer for companies that are looking for growth in a tough and uncertain global environment.

Mr. and Ms.Asean have come a long way in a short time. Read more

By Renata Legierska, Alaco

Over the past five years, few other countries have experienced the highs and lows of the global economy as acutely as Mongolia. In 2011 the country was on the radar of virtually every investor interested in Asian emerging markets.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that Mongolia’s GDP would grow by 17.5 per cent that year – largely on the back of the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project, a gigantic copper and gold mine operated by Rio Tinto – and continue at 14 per cent through 2016.

The mining boom spurred growth in several other sectors, including financial services and construction. By 2012 Ulaanbaatar was a booming town with rapidly rising skyscrapers and a growing expat community. The atmosphere was intoxicating. Read more

In a surprising recent move, India has served notices to 57 countries including the UK, Germany, France and Sweden seeking termination of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) whose initial duration has either expired or will expire soon.

For the remaining 25 countries with similar treaties whose initial duration will expire from July 2017 onwards, such as China, Finland, Bangladesh and Mexico, India has asked for joint statements to clarify ambiguities in treaty texts, to avoid expansive interpretations by arbitration tribunals. Read more

By Lee Cashell, Asia Pacific Investment Partners

Amidst the chaos sown by Brexit, one country’s protest vote is being greeted with relief by investors. In a landslide election, 3m Mongolians opted to end an era of policies that contributed to a fall off in foreign direct investment and economic growth.

After clinching an 85 per cent majority in the election, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) hopes to reinvigorate the economy through a more permissive operating environment and friendlier attitudes toward investors. Read more

By Sebastian Heilmann, Mercator Institute for China Studies

A wave of investment from China is breaking across Europe. Chinese takeovers of technological leaders have raised fears of a sell-out of our economies’ competitive advantage. In Germany, the Chinese Midea group’s offer to buy a controlling stake in the Bavarian robotics manufacturer Kuka has triggered fierce resistance.

Midea is the wrong target for the current backlash. But the debate over how to deal with Chinese investors is overdue. China’s state-guided outbound industrial and technology policies, aimed at technological leapfrogging through acquisitions, pose a formidable challenge to national investment regimes and EU competition policy. Read more

While China’s rapidly rising debt incites worries among many, China’s leadership seems so determined to meet overly ambitious GDP growth targets that leverage is set to continue to increase steadily. The government targets credit growth of 16 per cent this year, once changes in local government financing are taken into account, and credit expansion so far this year has broadly been in line with that target. Read more

Every country is touchy about some topics, especially when raised by a foreigner. Living in China for almost seven years now, and having been a student of the place for the last forty, I thought I knew the hot buttons not to press. Apparently not.

The topic at hand: high-tech innovation in the People’s Republic of China and why it seems to lag so far behind that of neighboring Taiwan. The current issue of one of China’s leading business publications, Caijing Magazine, published a Chinese-language article I wrote together with China First Capital’s COO, Dr. Yansong Wang, about Taiwan’s outstanding optical lens company Largan PrecisionRead more

China continues to dominate discussions about the health of the world economy. Many are concerned about the country’s slowing growth and its ability to manage the difficult transition from a controlled economy dominated by manufacturing to a more open economy with greater reliance on domestic consumption. Some policy decisions last year also scared the market.

While the risks are many and real, they are manageable and well-understood by China’s policy makers. This is not the time to sell China short. Read more

In a world where financial transactions and capital flows move in milliseconds, getting the right information about the state of a country’s economy is critically important. Unfortunately, the standard and still most reliable measure of the health of an economy, gross domestic product (GDP), has not kept up with the speed of financial markets. This puts emerging market countries at risk from financial gyrations, regardless of the underlying fundamentals of their economies.

Take for example Indonesia, one of the largest and most influential emerging market economies. Its GDP data is reported quarterly with about five weeks’ delay. This means that economic activity that takes place in January is not reported until the first week of May. While Indonesia is no outlier in its delay, it is still late for a real-time assessment of the strength of economic activity. Read more

Speculation is rife that Amazon is soon to establish itself as a global shipping and logistics expert, in a move coined internally as project ‘Dragon Boat’.

While this bold strategy has the potential to significantly increase margins and position Amazon as Chinese businesses’ gateway to the West, a considered and phased implementation is essential if the firm is to gain share of the cross-border e-commerce market from industry leader Alibaba. Read more

By Ken Wong, Eastspring Investments

There is an even chance that, this summer, China’s A-shares will be included for the first time in a key emerging market investment index operated by MSCI, the index provider. If it happens, it will be a welcome development, for the simple reason that it will make the benchmark a more accurate reflection of the emerging market corporate universe.

While the immediate impact of inclusion would be quite small, the longer-run potential for A-shares – which are the stocks of companies listed inside mainland China – to grow in importance within the index is enormous.

Two obstacles to inclusion have been largely removed – reforms to a quota system on investment inflows from abroad and a shortening of the delay in repatriating capital out of China. Read more