West To Exert More Cost Pressures

The US back-to-school buying season

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Source of Picture: theglobeandmail.com

As regular readers will remember, last Friday I linked through to this article from the New York Times on the likelihood of a disappointing back-to-school sales season in the US.

I had promised some more thoughts on this article and so here goes….

……This is a sign of the belt-tightening in the US and Europe resulting from the long-term shift in consumer behaviour – as discussed before on this blog – which will lead to:

*Greater dominance of low-priced retailers such as Wal-Mart, which has started selling a Toshiba laptop for just $348. More outsourcing to the developing world seems inevitable as cost pressures increase. The squeeze will work its way up to marginally cost-efficient chemical and polymer producers

*A rise in protectionism: Western manufacturers are likely to respond with more anti-dumping petitions – and perhaps an increase in ex-WTO measures such as complaints over labour and environmental standards. If a cap-and-trade bill is passed in the US we could also see carbon-import taxes for imports from those countries with no comparable systems. Such measures can be politically popular

And what does a 17-inch laptop for $348 mean for innovation in the chemicals industry? Are companies going to bother with expensive R&D?

But to cut back on R&D would show a lack of vision by any company that cannot compete in pure commodities.

More rather than less differentiation is likely to be the key for survival as chemicals and polymers with marginal “added value” will face tougher scrutiny from buyers.

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