I had an interesting discussion today about the new developments in the exports sector in China. Some purchasers are surprised by a change of attitude of some fairly large Chinese suppliers. They used to be hungry for new business, and suddenly they do not accept any order involving new developments, preferring instead to go on with repeated products.
I have no definitive answer for this new attitude, but here are my guesses:
1. Fewer workers means less capacity
Many factories do not produce at full capacity. Wages–which are usually well above the legal minimum–have gone up because of market forces. Instead of increasing salaries across the board to attract new hires, some factory owners prefer to keep paying the operators at a level that they think is reasonable.
2. Focusing on low-risk orders
Repeat orders are always a godsend for a factory. They have already noticed the sensitive issues of the product, the workers are immediately operational, and above all there is little confusion on the factory floor. It means the real production costs are much lower.
On the other hand, new developments take more time both from managers and from the prototyping team. Operators often have to be shown how to do their job, and there is usually some rework at one point or another. But the worst is that big mistakes are much more frequent–sometimes a whole order has to be sold at a hefty discount because the original buyer has refused it.
3. The sub-suppliers have the same problems
As overseas orders pick up, some components suppliers of exporting factories have problems delivering in time. In this case, recurrent and “easy” products are also given priority.
4. A general uncertainty about what the future is made of
The increases in minimum wages and the RMB appreciation signal a clear change in Beijing’s priorities, from sustaining the export sector to boosting domestic consumption. Add to this the ever-increasing competition on prices and all the talk about other Asian countries, and factory owners are no longer certain to make profits in the coming years.
On the other hand, real estate and the stock market are pretty tempting. Should they keep investing to grow a business that might have no future, or should they buy more tangible assets?