This is a guest post by my partner in crime over at our sourcing operation of ImportDojo :)
What is going on in China?
I am happy to provide you a bit of insight into the struggles of the worlds factories so for you to understand the background when you get emails like “shortage of packaging, long delivery times, factories shut down, massive price increases” etc..
Probably most of you have encountered rising prices and stubborn suppliers in the past few weeks. While some of this is the daily business of all of us, the degree of disturbance has taken dimensions unheard of in the past years and it is important and interesting to go deeper to find out what is happening and what causes the problem.
The US Dollar and its Chinese brother CNY
When Donald Trump won the election the USD fell into a short depression, recovering within hours to a strengths it had not had for almost 20 years. The USD compared to the EUR surged two days after the election to a surprising 1,078 conversion rate and continued to drop to a stunning 1,044 conversion rate in last week. As a reference point, the EUR was recovering and compared to the USD before the election results it had strengthened up to 1,150. This meant, that items purchased for the EURO zone in USD from China suddenly increased by about 9% in their landed price.
Since we all compare profitability of products with the current possible sales price on the market, that meant margins were melting by 9% and a lot of projects, which looked fabulous before, were doomed. We heard it many times from our customers, that they were expecting a different price calculating back from the sales price on the market to the buying price. The point is, that it takes between 3-5 months for this exchange rate fluctuation to take effect in the market.
Of course the financial professionals will argue about the validity of the above numbers and I have to say they are correct. The strengthening USD forced the CNY to depreciate, which meant that compared to the USD the CNY became a bit weaker and everything coming from scratch from the chinese market in terms of raw materials could become a bit cheaper eventually. However the depreciation of the CNY towards the USD is limited to around 2-3%, while the currency strengthened by 9%, so for the European market it is a loss of around 6% just because of the USD. For the US market on the other side it definitely is a chance, since the depreciation of the Renminbi takes effect and in theory all items should become 2-3% cheaper. Now this is where the second problem kicks in.
At 4:20 PM on Friday, 16th of December 2016, Chinas environmental control agencies issued a five day “red alert” about a hazardous, choking smog spreading across the northern part of China and Beijing. Skies went black, the public was advised to stay indoors and switch on the television and the whole thing had a little bit the feeling of a catastrophe approaching. The AQI (air quality index) surged from average 150 (which is already unhealthy) to 500-700 in certain areas. Schools and nurseries were shut down, cars older than a certain age were banned from the streets and life almost stopped.
Beijing is just one of 21 cities in China declaring red alert throughout the last 20 days. A couple of days after Beijing, Shanghai followed and around 200 million people were effected by the exhaust fumes of the factories producing for the whole world. The government did the only thing that was right and targeted high polluters like steel mills, coal plants, painting and packaging factories, oil processing plants and all factories not fulfilling the environmental criteria set out by the government at the beginning of the year. As a result, by the end of last week more than 2.500 factories all over China have been shut down. Some of these manufacturers will get the chance to reopen after the red alert passes, many of them will have to either improve and get up to the standard required or file bankruptcy.
We may say “Lucky our factories are not affected”, but it would be a lie. The truth is that only very few of the 1.500 factories we work with have had to completely shut down. However this does not change the fact that their raw material suppliers for steel, aluminum, copper, plastic (oil related) as well as packaging are not there anymore. Yes, China is out of stock on raw material and packaging material. The result of this government policy is, that in the past 3 weeks cold rolled steel prices have gone up by 40%, hot rolled steel prices by 30%, plastic by 25% and packaging - if you are lucky and you can get it - by 35%. Aluminum and Copper follow the main steel indexes.
We have hit rock bottom on this and probably this is as bad as it gets. Suppliers are postponing orders without any guaranteed new shipment date where they purchased the raw material but did not purchase the packaging yet. In some cases if the material is not yet purchased, suppliers even cancel orders with their customers because the price increase they have to ask for would be in a range of 20-30%, which will make them lose their reputation.
Chinese New Year
The cataclysm is the 28th of January 2017, when all factories put down the work 12% of the worlds population starts their 2 week holiday with a journey to their hometown. This is also the point in time where the environmental “red alert” will probably be lifted again and everything can go back to normal. However nobody can foresee the effect of China standing still 1 month earlier than anticipated because of these environmental issues and we are working hard to find a solution for each and every customer who encounters this problem along their way.
The potential chances in this situation
Concluding this newsletter the situation does not look good at the moment but it is an amazing chance to get some sourcing and product development work done. Offices remain open and concepts can be drafted, samples can be inspected and quotations can be handed out. Even though production is not at its peak, the factories can focus on selling their assortments and capacities for the coming year, for orders after Chinese New Year.
We are prepared to take on your new ideas and requests before Chinese new year and offer a discount to existing customers of 10% with the coupon code #christmas, sent to any of our employees at ImportDojo. Here in Hong Kong our merchandisers work over the christmas holidays and will be happy to grant this lower price to any service from our services overview except for photography and virtual address services here: https://importdojo.com/sourcing/
Finally, there is nothing left to say except for thank you once again for the trust you put in us in 2016. We are looking forward to an exciting 2017 together with you and we wish you a merry christmas, happy holidays and all the best for 2017.
All the best and happy sourcing,