China’s boom too good to last.

I have been saying this for years. The trees will not continue to grow into the sky. China will eventually price itself out of the market. It happened before with ‘cheap labour’ countries, and it will happen again. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald sheds some light on this phenomenon, and makes the parallel with what happened in Taiwan.


Welding, with Chinese characteristics … how long can this sort of thing keep going?

Marcus Padley
June 23, 2007

LET me ask you. When did you last see the label “Made in Taiwan”? Anyone in Generations A-W will get the point immediately.

There are certain things about the current boom that will not last. One of them is cheap Chinese labour. Millions of dopey folk with mud on their boots wandering into the cities, eyes agog. They are being put to use and their use is putting tens of per cent into manufacturing company margins across the western world.

Those margins are turning up in share prices. And with so many naive people ready to be exploited, it’s no wonder inflation isn’t spiralling as it should be in China. The Chinese consumer isn’t getting paid enough to push prices.

But it won’t last. Nothing this good ever does. It didn’t in Taiwan. Their citizens went from naivety to sophistication and beyond. They became wealthy.

In China the same thing will happen. The dopey country folk will become a savvy workforce. They will sense their exploitation; they will demand more. Their costs will rise and it will all come to an end. In the past year Chinese labour costs have risen 10 per cent. It’s the beginning of the end.

As they mature, the Chinese will run into a host of social problems. The bedrock of their industrialisation – cheap labour – will thrash and become unreliable. As it does the western profit margins will fall, the growth will dissipate and the potential will diminish. In its place will be left a nation trying to sort itself out.

No more will the world be flooded with cheap goods. On top of this the metal and commodity prices will feed through to finished goods prices and the CPI numbers. The oil price and energy prices will also be squeezed. It will all come home to roost in higher inflation and that means higher interest rates and falling bond markets.

The other thing that will not last is the Asian investment in US bond markets and US assets. Their participation in US Treasury auctions is already backing off. They have absurd reserves exposed to one currency and one asset class. With the potential in Asia they’ll start to invest closer to home.

The US is not going to lead us into infinity. Their balance sheet is weak, their profit and loss is unprepared for the costs of the baby boomers and their credit card bill is enormous. Their currency is threatened. It just makes sense for the Asian support of the bond market to weaken and as it does the US bond yields will no longer be held artificially down. Another reason for them to rise.

I remember reading a US study which concluded that when a stock jumped or fell sharply on a price-sensitive announcement it tended to trend in that same direction for the next nine days. In other words, you could sell or buy into the trend on the first trade after a price gap and still make money.

In the same way, the recent big jump in bond yields is a sign. It is the sign of a trend. That’s why the market got so upset about it. But unlike the concerns about the Chinese stockmarket, the bond yield concerns are going to stay, develop and become a much bigger influence.

Look at any of the major long bond yield charts. They are all on the rise, and not just in the last couple of weeks. They have been on their way up since 2003. The message from the recent flick up is that the trend is going to accelerate.

So what do you do if inflation and interest rates are on the way up? Two things:

■ Lock in the mortgage at fixed rates for the next five years.

■ Make the most of this golden window of opportunity while it lasts.

Now is not the time to be cautious about equity markets. There is plenty of play before the problems roost. And anyway, all this is global stuff. Australia will be a great market for many years and we’ll list the reasons why in the Marcus Today newsletter this week.

Marcus Padley is a stockbroker and the author of the daily stockmarket newsletter Marcus Today.

In my own industry, the marine repair and supply sector, the past few years the salaries of my staff have risen by almost 20% per year. Our hourly rates are hardly lower than Singapore, Hong Kong, or Eastern Europe anymore.

China had never anything to offer but cheap labour. There is no creative thinking here, or a drive for innovation. Most efforts of multinational companies to establish at least a part of their R&D activities in China have failed. Quality and delivery time are still quoted as the biggest problems in every field of manufacturing here. With cheap labour as only, and dwindling asset, China will have to redefine it’s role on the global playing field.

The Chinese shipyards are experiencing a boom unlike anything seen before in Japan or Korea. There are yards, which themselves exist for merely 2 – 3 years, whose order books are filled till 2013! However, the prices are booming as well, causing many ship owners to look for India, and the emerging ship building country Vietnam.

About Stranded Mariner

Marine Engineer and passionate sailor and cruiser, working in the marine business in China.
This entry was posted in Business, China, Economy, News and Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to China’s boom too good to last.

  1. MyLaowai says:

    So very true. If it wasn’t for the cheap labour, there really would be sod all to come here for.

    And you’re correct – they have nothing in the way of imagination. You see that every day, everywhere. The concept of competing on the basis of quality or service or anything except price is utterly alien to them. They are unable to recognise problems before they occur, and usually struggle to see problems even after they occur, thay lack the ability to innovate, to plan further ahead than lunch, and there is a complete inability to comprehend the fact that the date in the the rest of the world is no longer 2000BC. And don’t get me started on their inability to take any kind of responsibility for anything whatsoever…


    Good post.

  2. Pingback: John Michael Cullen

  3. Weird thing is that we have a client who makes a relatively low tech home improvement item that just switched its manufacturing BACK TO Taiwan because it found that China’s quality problems ended up costing it more to manufacture in China than in Taiwan!

  4. Mariner says:

    It is interesting that you mentioned that, because I hear it more and more. One of the companies I used to work for did a study about production costs in China. It was a mechanical, but not simple product. They found that the production costs in China were not lower than in Switzerland, where they had been producing so far. Add to that the problems with quality and reliability (delivery times and schedules), so they basically decided not to make this move to China. I think we will see this more often, and also companies actually moving out like in your example.

  5. Pingback: China ship building. Will the boom continue? « Stranded on the Largest Island

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