U.S. companies say it's harder to make money in China now than before the pandemic

Chinese and U.S. flags flutter close to The Bund, before U.S. commerce delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

BEIJING — More U.S. companies are discovering it harder to make money in China than before the pandemic, elevating issues that companies could not keep lengthy.

According to an annual survey launched Thursday by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 19% of member companies surveyed in 2023 stated their earnings margins, before curiosity and taxes, have been greater in China than they have been globally.

That’s up from 12% in 2022, when many companies have been topic to stringent Covid-19 controls in China.

But the figures are effectively beneath the 22% to 26% share of U.S. companies that stated margins have been greater in China than they have been globally in prior years from 2017 to 2021.

“It is regarding when our member companies usually are not worthwhile,” Michael Hart, AmCham China president, instructed reporters Thursday. “They is not going to keep lengthy if they aren’t worthwhile.”

“This is a wake-up name for the Chinese authorities,” he stated.

China’s economic system grew quickly over the previous couple of a long time to change into the second-largest in the world behind the U.S.

But China’s progress has slowed in latest years due to the three-year pandemic, a droop in the huge actual property market and a drop in exports.

The slowdown and corresponding declines in home sentiment have prompted requires Beijing to stimulate the economic system additional. While authorities have announced a slew of measures to help progress, it is unclear whether or not there’s curiosity in large-scale stimulus as China tries to transition away from reliance on actual property to different industries.

You do not come to China to break even, so we might like to see extra of our members worthwhile

Michael Hart

AmCham China, president

The AmCham China survey discovered that 49% of members stated revenue margins in China final yr have been comparable to these globally, up one proportion level from 2022 and the identical as reported in 2019.

One-third of respondents stated their China margins have been decrease than they have been globally, a drop from 40% that stated so in 2022 however up from 30% in 2019.

Hart famous the enchancment in 2023 in contrast to 2022. “Of course, you do not come to China to break even, so we might like to see extra of our members worthwhile,” he stated.

There have been 343 respondents in a wide range of industries who responded to the survey, which was carried out from Oct. 19 to Nov. 10.

For 2023, 39% of members stated they anticipated a rise in China income in contrast to the earlier yr — a rise from the 32% in 2022.

In specific, almost half of shopper sector companies stated they anticipated 2023 China revenues to enhance from the prior yr.

Staying in China, however not increasing

Half the survey respondents stated China was amongst their high three funding locations globally, up 5 proportion factors from an all-time low in 2022.

“One of the causes that companies are very in China is R&D” and innovation, Hart stated, noting components corresponding to China’s huge market and management in particular industries corresponding to electric cars.

However, U.S. companies usually stay cautious about investing in China, amid slower progress and heightened geopolitical tensions.

Nearly half of the respondents stated they both plan to lower funding in China operations, or don’t intend to develop funding in the nation, the AmCham survey discovered.

The majority of U.S. companies surveyed stated they intend to maintain manufacturing in China, however those that stated they’re contemplating relocating such capability exterior the nation rose to 12% in the final two years, up from round 8% beforehand.

Foreign direct funding in China fell by 8% to 1.13 trillion yuan ($160 billion) in 2023, the lowest degree in three years, in accordance to Ministry of Commerce knowledge. It didn’t specify how a lot the U.S. invested in China.

A separate survey launched final week from the German Chamber of Commerce in China discovered that amongst 566 respondents, the high causes not to make investments in China — or to lower investments — have been low expectations for market growth or expectation of slower progress in the nation.

More than 80% of respondents stated China’s economic system faces a downward trajectory, the majority anticipated it could take one to three years for it to “regain a sturdy financial growth.”

The German Chamber’s survey was carried out from Sept. 5 to Oct. 6. It discovered that by far, the principal purpose for respondents to enhance funding in China was to stay aggressive there.

Waiting for progress

Chinese authorities have in the final yr sought to increase international funding in the nation. Last week, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao stated China and the U.S. are working to create a more predictable environment for businesses.

He stated Beijing has acted on a 24-point plan launched in August for supporting international companies in the nation — and that “extra than 60%” of the measures have been carried out or seen progress.

Asked Thursday about these efforts, AmCham China Chair Sean Stein famous the measures incorporate solutions from international enterprise chambers in China, however AmCham would really like Beijing “to make extra tangible progress.”

“It hasn’t been even throughout all of the completely different sectors,” he stated, noting some enhancements in life sciences and in taxation insurance policies. “Certainly seen an uptick from native governments to entice funding.”

Stein stated AmCham was extra targeted on how China was shifting ahead on the 24-point plan than any high-level Chinese authorities conferences.

He additionally stated that elevated authorities visits between the U.S. and China didn’t replicate a basic change however reasonably a recognition “that it is in their curiosity to stabilize the relationship.”

Rising U.S.-China tensions have been the high concern for members for a fourth-straight yr, the AmCham survey discovered.

Read extra about China from CNBC Pro

The second largest concern amongst respondents in the newest survey was inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear legal guidelines and enforcement.

The newest AmCham China survey discovered that Beijing’s cybersecurity guidelines on knowledge safety have been usually making operations tougher for members, particularly these in tech in addition to analysis and growth.

The Cyberspace Administration of China in October released draft rules that may ease restrictions on knowledge exports, however Stein identified “it nonetheless hasn’t been carried out.”

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