Wage hikes boost costs, but help sales (2)

13:52, June 09, 2010      

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Wages as a share of China's gross domestic product have fallen steadily since the 1980s, from 56.5 percent in 1983 to 36.7 percent in 2005, according to figures from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Even at that level, rising incomes made China the biggest auto market last year by vehicles sold and a leading market in industries from air travel to fast food. Retail sales in April were up 18.5 percent from a year earlier.

"Demand is picking up because people have more money in their pockets," said Jing Ulrich, JP Morgan's chairwoman for China equities. She said higher wages could boost demand for products as varied as fast food and sporting goods.

Foreign companies' focus on China as a market was highlighted by a survey released in April by the American Chamber of Commerce in China. It found the top priority for 58 percent of its member companies was producing in China for sale to local consumers. Only 14 percent said their priority was to produce for export.

The wage hikes are likely to hit employers hardest in China's southeast. The area has thousands of factories, many owned by Hong Kong or Taiwanese investors that compete in global markets. Many have razor-thin profit margins and little power to pass on higher costs to customers.

The region was battered in 2008 by the collapse in global consumer spending. Thousands of factories closed and the government said as many as 30 million people were thrown out of work.

Wei Senchuan, general manager of Suzhou Hong Sheng Printing Co. in the eastern city of Suzhou, which makes housings for computers bound for export, said the minimum wage rise will add 6 to 7 percent to his costs.

Asked whether he could pass that on to customers, Wei said, "impossible."

Even after the latest increases, Chinese wages are still a fraction of those in the United States or Europe. Foxconn says pay for its employees in Shenzhen will be about 2,000 yuan ($293) a month.

"We don't see an end to an era of cheap Chinese goods," said Yan of Standard Chartered.

The minimum wage hikes should raise growth in domestic consumption by about 0.2 percentage points this year, according to Jun Ma, chief China economist for Deutsche Bank. He said that would come at the cost of a 0.4 percentage point rise in inflation and a 0.6 percentage point decline in exports.

The wage hikes "will serve as an important impetus to speed up the income distribution reform and economy upgrading," Ma said.

People's Daily Online / Agencies
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