Chinese Industrial Firms Face Profit Margin Squeeze Amid Weak Pricing Power

Chinese firms face profit squeeze as domestic and export markets struggle, with steel, auto, and green energy sectors hit hard, raising concerns about China's economic recovery and global implications.

Trim Correspondents
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Chinese Industrial Firms Face Profit Margin Squeeze Amid Weak Pricing Power

Chinese Industrial Firms Face Profit Margin Squeeze Amid Weak Pricing Power

Chinese industrial firms are confronting mounting pressure on their profit margins due to a lack of pricing power in both domestic and export markets. The challenges faced by these companies span across various sectors, from steel and aluminum to automotive and green energy technologies.

China's steel industry, in particular, has been struggling with overcapacity and declining domestic demand. The country sits on a large stockpile of steel that it is unable to use for its own infrastructure needs due to a stagnating economy. As a result, China has been exporting this excess steel at low prices, drawing criticism and retaliatory measures from several countries, including the United States, European Union, India, Thailand, and Mexico. These nations have imposed tariffs and anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel imports to protect their domestic industries.

The automotive sector is also facing significant challenges, with over 100 car factories in China capable of producing nearly 40 million internal combustion engine vehicles per year, roughly twice the current demand. The rise of electric vehicles has further exacerbated the situation, leading to price cuts by manufacturers like BYD, Tesla, and Li Auto. Dozens of gasoline-powered vehicle factories are barely running or have already been shut down, as exemplified by the sale of a former Hyundai assembly plant and engine factory in Chongqing for a fraction of its original cost.

Despite some positive economic data in the first quarter of 2023, such as a 5.3% growth in GDP, China's recovery remains fragile. Key sectors like retail sales and industrial output have already started to lag, and the economy is falling further into deflation. Weak domestic demand, linked to declining consumer confidence and ongoing troubles in the property sector, is a major contributor to this trend. Job insecurity, especially among younger Chinese, is also a growing concern.

Why this matters: The challenges faced by Chinese industrial firms have far-reaching implications for the global economy. As the world's largest manufacturer and exporter, China's industrial performance and trade practices significantly impact global supply chains, prices, and market dynamics. The ongoing trade tensions and economic headwinds in China could lead to further disruptions and realignments in international trade and investment flows.

S&P Global Ratings has warned that local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) and consumer companies in China could trigger a new round of debt failures due to their larger maturity walls and greater refinancing needs. "The tightening of financing is further compressing the flexibility of companies' operations and shaking the foundation of their financial stability," the report noted. As Chinese industrial firms continue to navigate these challenges, the path to a sustained economic recovery remains uncertain, with experts suggesting that it will take more than a few months of robust numbers to prove a definitive rebound is underway.

Key Takeaways

  • Chinese industrial firms face profit margin pressure due to lack of pricing power.
  • China's steel industry struggles with overcapacity and declining domestic demand, leading to low-price exports.
  • China's auto sector faces oversupply, with factories barely running or shutting down.
  • China's economic recovery remains fragile, with weak domestic demand and rising job insecurity.
  • Challenges for Chinese firms could disrupt global supply chains and trigger debt failures.