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Multinational companies' dependence on China grows

By Zhang Yuwei | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-23 11:06

Some of the big things to watch for this week are the second quarter earnings of certain Fortune Global 500 companies. A good line-up to start with would be: Boeing, Caterpillar, General Motors, 3M, United Technologies, and DuPont.

These American companies - as multinational as they are - share something else in common: they are becoming increasingly dependent on their operations in China.

The term "dependent" comes from The Economist's Sinodependency Index - an interactive graphic that gives a breakdown of revenues from China for US multinationals operating in the world's second-largest economy.

The 2013 Index, as of July, presents a few interesting things about the current total of 133 companies, including all S&P 500 members. Technology companies - including Apple, Qualcomm, Intel and IBM - are receiving increasing revenues from the Chinese market.

The index shows a trend that listed companies are more dependent on China than they were when the index was introduced in 2009. China, on average, accounted for 11.2 percent of revenues in 2012, up from 9.8 percent in 2009.

Apple, which tops the chart this year, got 11 percent of revenues (as of July) from China compared to 1.1 percent in 2009.

After tech companies, consumer/non-cyclical companies such as Yum! Brands, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson, are also seeing increasing revenues from China.

Zhu Zhiqun, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University and author of US-China relations in the 21st Century, said the index suggests a growing China influence on a number of S&P 500 companies.

"It signifies a more open Chinese market and a more interdependent relationship between the Chinese economy and Western economies," said Zhu.

Jon Taylor, a professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, said: "I believe that this dependency can and will grow, primarily as a result of China shifting to a more knowledge and consumption-based model for growth.

"Many multinational companies are banking on Chinese consumers to do for them in the coming decade what American and Western consumers have done in the past," Taylor said.

China's growing market in literally every industry provides promising opportunities for multinationals that want to be part of it, or expand their existing presence using China strategies to gain and win the market.

Companies that have larger revenues from the Chinese market can also have more exposure of investments and facilities in China.

"The implication is that perhaps American multinationals that are Sinodependent are potentially at risk of exposure if a real economic dip occurs in China," said Taylor.

Zhu suggests that one should not read "too much" into the index, because just like other indices it is not a perfect measurement.

"After all, a company's share of revenues from China is also affected by other factors such as inflation, fluctuating exchange rates and changing operation costs in China as well as the performance of other economies where a company also operates and receives its revenue," he explained.

Taylor calls Walmart a missing element in the index.

"The world's 15th-largest company (and No 1 by sales) purchases around 10 percent of all Chinese exports and then marks them up by as much as a factor of 10 for resale in America, among other places, but ironically in China, too," said Taylor. "It is nowhere to be found in the index."

But the interactive graphic, which changes on a daily basis to show the movement - big or small - of multinational companies in China, perhaps in a way reflects the general sentiment of these companies: everyone wants a success in China.

In recent interviews with China Daily, two Fortune Global 500 companies - Estee Lauder and Otis Elevator (part of United Technologies) - explained why they want to be part of the China story.

"We have never seen economic development at such a scale and such a pace anywhere in history; every time I go China, I am fascinated," said Otis President Pedro Baranda, crediting his company's growth in China to ongoing urbanization.

Fabrizio Freda, CEO of Estee Lauder, said China, the third-largest market after the US and the UK, provides a promising, solid future for the company.

"The China market is the single most important growth opportunity at this moment around the world," Freda said.

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