Source of picture: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23512037/
CHINA is making export gains at the expense of other higher-cost competitors that might not be sustainable because of reasons including rising trade protectionism and economic rebalancing.
Chemical companies need to factor in this risk - and take into account how overall demand might merely be shifting location rather than increasing.
Knit apparel is a good example where, according to this article by David Barboza in the New York Times, American imports from China jumped by 10% in July this year compared with the same months in 2008.
This was as US imports from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador fell by 19-24%. Barboza was quoting data from Global Trade Information Services.
It is not just emerging markets that are suffering as a result of China's increasing dominance in textiles.
The beleaguered European industries are also in the firing line with the EU evaluating extending antidumping duties on imports of shoes from China and Vietnam.
"Reductions in raw-material import tariffs and increases in export-tax rebates have helped Chinese apparel producers push their prices down," said said Ying Min Ye, president of Beijing-based Chem1 Consulting at the Downstream Asia Roundtable Asia oil and gas event in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia.
The conference, organised by the World Refining Association, took place earlier this month.
You can add to these advantages a Yuan which is now being pegged to the US dollar, resulting in steep depreciations against other Asian currencies. Between March and September, the Yuan had fallen in value by 10% against a basket of Asian currencies, said Barclays Capital.
A further huge advantage is, according to Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (quoted in the same Barboza article), flexibility in labour markets.
This means the ability to cut wages without worrying about troublesome trade unions or restrictive employment legislation.
The biggest comparative boost of all might well be the flood of cheap lending. China has pump-primed its economy through a huge increase in bank loans.
The US removed safeguard duties against imports of several categories of Chinese clothing last December, according to a new report from Textiles Intelligence, providing China with another edge.
The EU removed similar safeguard duties in December 2007.
Both sets of duties were the result of damage caused to local industries when The Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) came into effect on 1 January 2005
Here, therefore, could end some of the head-scratching over steep increases in fibre-intermediate pricing in 2009.
Restocking and crude oil have been important factors.
What might have also benefited the market are China's gains at the expense of others.
The country's yarn output grew by 9% in the six months to June 2009 over the same period last year, Yin added at the same event.
Fibre output rose by 10% and polyester production by 13%. Click here for a copy of his full presentation - .5 Yingmin Ye 1.pdf
It's not just in low-end clothing where China is making gains, but also in electronic goods - at the expense largely of the Japanese.
Japan has seen its share of electronic-good exports to the US fall by 18% in 1999 to 7%, added Barboza.
In the last year alone, China's market share of the US electronics goods market has doubled from 10% to 20%.
Sales of electronic materials to China were up by 15% in Q3 over the second quarter, said Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, when the company's third-quarter results were released last week.
Coatings and infrastructure sales rose by 16%, polyethylene (PE) 10% by and the automatic sector 5%, he added.
From a Dow perspective, if it's taking sales away from Japanese electronic chemicals companies all well and good.
But displaced demand doesn't necessarily add up to greater overall demand.
Another important point is that when all is said and done, China's exports as a whole are still down on the first half of 2008.
China exported $521 billion worth of clothes, toys, electronics, grains and other commodities in H1 2009, according Barboza.
Although lower than declines suffered by other exporters such as Japan and Germany, this figure still represented a 22% fall over the first half of last year.
Returning to the theme of winners and losers from China's boom, Australia - despite seeing its currency rise in value by 40% against the Yuan in March-September - has made big net gains through a surge in commodity exports.
It's the same story for Indonesia.
"Commodities and high-tech goods have gained [because of the recovery in China]. But anything in between, China can often produce itself, so countries in these areas are under more pressure," said Tai Hui, an economist at Standard Chartered in Singapore in this article from the Financial Times.
Malaysia and the Philippines were losing out because they competed directly with China in many export markets, he added.
"Market stability has improved, but we continue to remain cautious about the ability of some economies to sustain growth," continued Liveris when the Q3 results came out.
"This is especially true of the US and Europe, and until these economies return to 'normal', we believe global growth will be muted."
This is also especially true of China.
Last week we discussed how domestic consumption was much less than investment as a driver of January-September GDP (gross domestic product) growth.
The relatively high investment component of GDP points to several risks and concerns:
*An increase in export-based industrial capacity. Now that it's on the ground, China will be tempted and able to keep this capacity running, even in very weak market conditions
*At the moment the US seems to be more worried over China's willingness to keep on funding its huge deficits than damage to jobs caused by aggressively cheap imports. But how long will this last as unemployment climbs towards 10%? Could we see a big increase in trade protectionism?
*Bubbles in real estate and equities. Real-estate prices have risen by 73% so far this year. Confusing signals are emerging from the government over whether or not monetary tightening will occur in 2010. Leave it too late and these bubbles could get more out of hand; act too hastily and the economic rebound will be set back
*Assuming that the investment number reported for Q1-Q3 also includes money spent on stockpiling oil and other commodities, will the high levels of imports continue? Monetary tightening is a threat along with sudden dips in import demand as China starts running off inventories
*Meagre underlying growth in domestic consumption. Nominal GDP only increased by 4.7% in the first nine months of this year, indicating that deflation was behind the higher headline number of 7.7% Although a lot of people might have made theoretical and real money out of real estate and equities, this doesn't suggest a healthy state of affairs for the average worker.
A weaker currency, import tariff rebates, increases in export taxes and soft and plentiful bank loans for new capacity hardly suggest rapid economic rebalancing towards domestic growth.
Has China put in place the right policies to move quickly enough towards this rebalancing to keep the rest of the world happy?
Can it move any quicker given the country's social and economic pressures?