Sunday, 11 May 2008

Zero Profit in China

An interesting article from Far Eastern Economic Review (thanks to China Game and Paul Midler for the HT and writing the article).

The arguments expounded in this article are fairly sound and provides a number of interesting insights. First, that economics is a long term game, second, that profits are not the only motives of individual firms (at least in the short run). Finally, he points out that many foreign economists (including myself) predicted non-performing loans would cripple the banking sector. Whilst I think this is still a potentially serious problem I think Midler makes a good point in this article.

This discussion on over supply and copyright issues is also interesting.

It is worth reading in full.

Why Profit Zero Works in China [Far Eastern Economic Review]

Profit zero scenarios are a product of Chinese business history. Back when state-owned factories acted in place of a social welfare program, manufacturing’s primary goal was not profitability, but job creation. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, when the planned economy failed to stimulate enough job growth to approach full employment, the Communist Party looked to private industry, and entrepreneurs who could put people to work garnered a degree of political clout with government officials. Profitability was important, but it took a back seat to the achievement of political aims. Manufacturers consequently found themselves motivated to sign cross-border agreements with foreign companies.

While one benefit was the acquisition of new technologies, even more important was the opportunity to learn how business was done in a market-driven economy. It was in this environment that Chinese companies willingly gave up short-term profit opportunities. Some manufacturers viewed their first big contracts the way a college graduate looks at an unpaid internship—a sacrifice made with the understanding that it would pay off later. Labor in China was already cheap, and factories willing to forgo a profit margin made themselves even more attractive. With prices held artificially low, importers rushed into the market.

On the banking sector:

Of course the opportunity for profit zero would not have been made possible without help from the banking sector. Chinese banks loaned money to manufacturers for years without pressuring them to make payment, and, while foreign economists suggested that nonperforming loans would cripple the economy, China ultimately proved the value of a profit-zero strategy. Some of the bad lending that went on was occasionally the result of corruption, but the average loan made to a manufacturer was legitimate. Industry in China has long been in the habit of building production capacity well in advance of any actual need. Importers hesitated to place orders unless they saw a factory that at least on the surface looked capable. Manufacturers and bankers understood that a shining new factory was like a billboard. In most economies, an entrepreneur must prove a need for a capacity expansion before money is lent.

An excellent article.

1 comment:

juan said...

Thanks, but zero profit need not mean that no surplus value has been created by those firms, only that the surplus has been appropriated by others, which would be a type of unequal exchange argument.