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News from China
Exports to get back on track this year
14th August 2015

 CHINA’S exports will hopefully return to positive territory this year as the latest monthly slump was partly caused by base effect, an official with the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday.

“The export structure is improving and the country’s share in the global market is steadily expanding — these trends have not been changed,” said Zhang Ji, assistant to the commerce minister.

China’s exports in the first seven months fell 0.9 percent year on year, with exports in July slumping 8.9 percent, compared with a 2.1 percent increase in June.

Zhang attributed July’s plunge to “exceptionally high” growth in the same period of last year, saying the decline would have been within a normal range if the base effect was excluded.

In July 2014, exports surged 14.5 percent year on year.

Though softening due to weaker external demand and rising costs, exports still outperformed those of other major economies, Zhang said.

Exports in the first six months by the United States and Japan fell by 5.2 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, according to data from the World Trade Organization.

China’s exports rose by 0.9 percent in that period.

Zhang said there has been increased pressure on foreign trade, saying companies in the sector are having a hard time. Imports will likely stay weak, he said, but the downward momentum should be slower.

Source: Shanghai Daily, August 14, 2015
Sales of passenger vehicles in China plummet 6.6% to 1.3m
13th August 2015

 THE slump in China’s car market worsened in July as sales contracted by 6.6 percent, according to industry figures released yesterday.

People in the world’s biggest market by number of vehicles bought 1.3 million cars, minivans and other passenger vehicles, said the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Sales growth that peaked at 45 percent in 2009 has declined steadily as the world’s second-largest economy cooled and cities imposed ownership limits to curb smog and congestion.

The fall in recent months has been far sharper than expected, leading General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG and Chinese SUV brand Great Wall Motors to cut prices.

Global car brands have invested heavily in trying to appeal to Chinese tastes.

On July 22, GM announced a US$5 billion plan to develop models with its main Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp, to sell in China, India, Brazil and other developing markets.

Last month’s slide in sales followed June’s 3.4 percent decline, which was only the third such monthly contraction since September 2012.

This year’s downturn has been so abrupt that analysts who expected sales growth of up to 8 percent have cut their forecasts to as little as 1.7 percent.

Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, fell 7.1 percent in July to 1.5 million vehicles, though some types were relatively strong. SUV sales rose 34.2 percent to 393,000 vehicles, the association said.

Sales of passenger vehicles in the seven months through July rose 3.9 percent year on year to 1.1 million. Total vehicle sales came close to stalling, rising just 0.4 percent to 1.3 million.

Sales by Chinese brands rose 5.1 percent to 494,000 and their market share rose by 1.2 points to 38.9 percent.

GM, which competes with VW for the status of China’s biggest-selling car brand, said sales by the company and its Chinese partners fell 4 percent in July to 229,175. For the year to date, sales rose 3.3 percent to 1.9 million.

Ford said its July sales of Ford-brand vehicles dropped 6 percent year on year to 77,100.

Nissan said its July sales fell 13.9 percent to 84,200. For the year to date, sales rose 2.8 percent to 672,100 units.

Source: Shanghai Daily, August 13, 2015
Stocks flat after depreciation of yuan
12th August 2015

 HANGHAI shares ended flat yesterday after the central bank allowed the yuan to depreciate to its lowest level against the US dollar for almost three years.

The Shanghai Composite Index closed down 0.01 percent at 3,927.91 points.

Earlier in the day, the People’s Bank of China set the midpoint for the currency at 6.2298 yuan to the dollar, a rise of 1.9 percent from 6.1162 on Monday.

The central bank’s move came hot on the heels of the release of weak economic data, which included a sharp fall in exports and producer prices dropping to their lowest level for almost six years.

While the weaker yuan should benefit China’s exports, it will also result in capital outflows from the stock market and hit asset valuations, with the financial and property sectors likely to suffer most, UBS Securities said in a note.

Wang Yang, a researcher with Guotai Junan Futures, said it will not be long before the central bank cuts interest rates again to offset the pressure of the capital outflows.

Stock performance diverged on the news. Companies in the aviation sector, which tend to hold large amounts of debt denominated in US dollars, suffered the most, with the shares of China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines both falling by over 7 percent.

In contrast, industries that rely heavily on exports were among the biggest winners, with the textile manufacturing sector rising 4.5 percent.

The banking sector was also weak yesterday. China Merchants Bank lost 2.3 percent to 18.20 yuan (US$2.88), the Bank of Beijing fell 2 percent to 9.08 yuan, and the Industrial Bank dropped 2 percent to 15.96 yuan.

The flat overall performance brought to an end two days of gains led by speculation about government reforms of state-owned enterprises.

Source: Shanghai Daily, August 12, 2015
Nokia looks to brand licensing for handset return
11th August 2015


 NOKIA is hiring software experts, testing new products and seeking sales partners as it plots its return to the mobile phone and consumer tech arena it abandoned with the sale of its handset business.
Once the world’s biggest maker of mobile phones, the Finnish firm was wrong-footed by the rise of smartphones and eclipsed by Apple and Samsung. It sold its handset business to Microsoft in late 2013 and has since focused on making equipment for telecoms networks.
Now Nokia boss Rajeev Suri is planning a comeback. He must wait until late next year before he can consider re-entering the handset business — after a non-compete deal with Microsoft expires — but preparations are under way.
The company has already dipped its toe in the consumer market, with its Android tablet, the N1, which went on sale in January in China, and days ago unveiled a “virtual-reality camera” — heralding it as the “rebirth of Nokia.”
It has also launched an Android app called Z Launcher, which organizes content on smartphones.
Meanwhile, its technologies division has advertised dozens of jobs in California, many in product development, including Android engineers specializing in the operating software Nokia mobile devices will use.
The company had planned to lay off about 70 people at the division, according to a May announcement, but a company source said the figure has since been halved.
Nokia itself is not giving much away about its preparations, beyond saying that some staff at the 600-strong technologies division are working on designs for new products, including phones, and in digital video and health.

Ace in the pack
It will not be easy, however, for Nokia to claw its way back to relevance in the fast-changing, competitive mobile business where Apple has been scooping up nearly 90 percent of industry profits, nor for it to carve out a place in electronics.
One ace Nokia that holds is ownership of one of the mobile industry’s biggest troves of intellectual property, including patents it retained after selling its handset business. It does not want to waste such resources, built up with tens of billions of euros of investment over the past two decades.
It will also get an injection of talent when it completes the 15.6-billion-euro (US$17.1 billion) acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, announced in April, in the form of Bell Labs — a United States-based research center whose scientists have won eight Nobel prizes.
It said it won’t repeat the mistakes of the past of missing tech trends, being saddled with high costs, and reacting too slowly to changing consumer tastes.
To blunt such risks, it is seeking partners for “brand-licensing” deals whereby Nokia will design new phones, bearing its brand, but — in exchange for royalties — will then allow other firms to mass-manufacture, market and sell them.
This is in stark contrast to its previous handset business, which in its heyday manufactured more phones than any other company in the world and employed tens of thousands of people.
Suri said last month that Nokia aims to re-enter the mobile phone business, but only through such licensing agreements. It will not fall back on the “traditional” methods, said the CEO, who took the helm in May last year and has turned it into a slimmed down, more profitable company. He sold off its mapping business a week ago.
Such brand-licensing deals — as Nokia has struck for the N1 tablet — are less profitable than manufacturing and selling its own products, but also less risky. They can add a tidy sum of revenue for little investment for the company, which generates the bulk of income from selling telecoms network equipment to operators like Vodafone and T-Mobile.
“They want to be innovative and seen as a company with long-term vision in the (tech) industry and having a foot in devices plays into this impression, even if it’s not bringing massive revenue,” said Gartner analyst Sylvain Fabre.
Brand-licensing models are not new. European companies like Philips and Alcatel have made money by licensing out their brand after capitulating to Asian competitors, but given the crop of newcomers like China’s Xiaomi and India’s Micromax, it might not be possible for Nokia to reproduce even those minor successes.
With advances in contract manufacturing and standardization of software, components and features, it is also easier than ever for companies to outsource everything to produce lookalike phones.
“We only see this competitive pressure intensifying in coming years,” said CCS Insight mobile analyst Ben Wood.
“Barriers to entry in the handset market are lower than ever,” he said.
The strength of the Nokia brand — crucial to the success of such licensing deals — is also open to debate.
The company says its brand is recognized by 4 billion people. However, after being consistently ranked as one of the world’s top-five brands in the decade up to 2009 according to market researcher Interbrand, it has since nosedived and now looks set to disappear from top 100 lists.
Source: Shanghai Daily, August 11, 2015

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