Little Christmas cheer for factories

By Gao Qihui (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-24 09:13
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Little Christmas cheer for factories

An employee at Jiaying Arts and Crafts factory in Shantou, Guangdong province, finishes work on a Christmas decoration. [Photo / China Daily] 

Rising expenses

Profit margins for factories making Christmas products are already paper-thin, ranging from just 2 to 5 percent, according to a recent report by Xinhua News Agency that quoted an unnamed expert with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Imports and Exports of Light Industrial Products and Arts and Crafts.

Things have only been made worse by sharp rises in the cost of labor and raw materials.

Take non-woven fabric, the most common material used in festive ornaments and dolls, prices soared from about 8,000 yuan a ton in January to more than 16,000 yuan a ton in October.

"With raw materials making up at least 40 percent of our gross costs, I dare not purchase any non-woven fabric right now. I'm waiting for the price to drop," said Huang, whose company has been producing yuletide ornaments for 18 years.

Many traders are instead looking to buy from manufacturers in East China's Zhejiang province, where supplies are cheaper.

"We're now less competitive, as Shantou is not a source of raw materials," complained Chen Shaoyan, owner of Zheng Chang Long Carton Factory, which has been making yuletide ornaments for 10 years.

However, even in Zhejiang, the so-called "home of fabrics", plants have witnessed staggering price hikes for core ingredients in their products.

"Our gross costs have increased by about 25 percent," said Huang Jili, general manager of Orient Crafts in Ningbo, a city on the province's east coast. "We are feeling the same pressures."

Although the price of raw materials is likely to fall, analysts predict companies will have to deal with labor shortages and rising salary demands for some time to come.

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Exports encounter major hurdles

Factories across the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas - China's two economic powerhouses - have been short on hands since March this year, following the national Spring Festival holidays.

In response, at least 14 provinces and municipalities have raised the minimum wage, including both Guangdong and Zhejiang.

"If my production line is running at full capacity, we need at least 800 workers," said Chen in Shantou. "This year, I had only 200 workers during the peak time."

He said the situation forced his company to reject several orders from clients, resulting in sales falling 30 percent.

"Some manufacturers finished the orders at a loss to maintain the operation and keep their workers," added Chen.

Luo Yonghuang, deputy general manager of Hongfeng Arts and Crafts in Meizhou, Guangdong, complained that even though he raised his workers' wages by 150 percent, the company still experienced a labor shortage.

As most Christmas products are assembled by hand, the industry is extremely reliant on human resources, and a shift toward mechanized operations would be economically unfeasible for most.