Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Official: China to insist on principle of market-oriented economy on Huiyuan-Coca-Cola union

As Coca-Cola Co. seeks to acquire China''s largest juice company Huiyuan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said the government would insist on the principals of market-oriented economy under the legal process.

In an interview with Xinhua on the occasion of the 12th Xiamen International Fair for Investment and Trade in the southeast Fujian Province, spokesman Yao Shenhong said the ministry "would review the case of Coca-Cola''s acquisition of Huiyuan" and it was against monopoly while supporting "normal economic activities."

"Once we receive the application we will start the antitrust review," Yao told Xinhua.

Coca-Cola Co. said on Sept. 3 it had offered to buy Huiyuan for the equivalent of 2.4 billion U.S. dollars in cash. If successful, it would be the second-largest acquisition in the company''s history.

The Atlanta, Georgia-based company said the offer needed to be approved by the Chinese government.

The prospects of approval were unclear with much speculation emerging. In July, China turned down an offer by the Carlyle Group,a U.S.-based private equity company, to acquire Xugong Group Construction Machinery Co.

Both the Office of Anti-monopoly Investigations and Department of Treaty and Law in Ministry of Commerce, and Coca-Cola public affairs director Li Xiaoyun confirmed the company hadn''t submitted the application as of Wednesday.

Li said Coke was preparing the required materials and data for the application.

"The review of anti-monopoly has nothing to do with suspicion of monopoly but were simply required when the related companies reached the criterion in the laws," said Li, who also goes by the name Brenda Lee.

"This is a very normal process," she told Xinhua in a phone interview. "We simply submitted the materials according to the antitrust laws."

Any concentration should be reviewed when it has a global trade volume of 10 billion yuan and the total domestic trade volume of the two sides exceeds 400 million yuan in the previous financial year, according to the Anti-monopoly Law of the People''s Republic of China implemented onAug. 1, and the Guidelines on Anti-monopoly Filings for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors issued in March last year.

The examination should happen when the total trade volume of all the related companies exceeded 2 billion yuan in the last financial year and the trade volume of the two sides in China exceeded 400 million yuan.

The law was welcomed by senior leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. Coca-Cola was one of its members.

"Frankly, we welcome the new anti-monopoly law as it brings transparency to acquisition cases in China. We welcome the transparency," said AmCham chairman Norwell Coquillard at the Xiamen Fair.

"We understand the environment we invest in. We had estimated the market share of Huiyuan and Coca-Cola, which had reach the criterion, so we understand it has to be done," said Norwell, also the Cargill Investment Ltd president.

Since the antitrust law was a new law, Coca-Cola''s case would test the regulations, he noted.

Official: China to insist on principle of market-oriented economy on Huiyuan-Coca-Cola union (2)

His view was shared by Coca-Cola''s Li. "Accurate laws clarify the investors concept of the procedures. It could also help to create a healthier investment environment and encourage more foreign investment."

The case would also help China to detail the law for future protection of some important domestic markets, said Li Fei, a Xiamen University economics professor.

The acquisition was considered to be a big step for the soft drink giant to explore its non-carbonated drinks market in China when the rate of carbonated drinks share had slowed.

Last year, Coca-Cola launched its Minute Maid juice brand in China as part of its expansion into the nation''s fruit and vegetable drinks business. The category was valued at 10.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2007, while carbonated drinks were 7.4 billion U.S. dollars, according to Euromonitor figures.

"This acquisition will deliver value to our shareholders and provide a unique opportunity to strengthen our business in China, especially since the juice segment is so dynamic and fast-growing in China," said Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola president and chief executive officer . The acquisition would be the 55-year-old American-born Turk''s first major move since taking the reins as the company''s CEO in July.

Coke offered a figure of an exclusive soft drink review from Methodology Canadean Ltd, a British investigation company for the drinks market, showing the market share would be lower than 20 percent if the marriage was a success.

Currently, Huiyuan has a domestic market share of 13.95 percent among the 134 large drink producers in China, according to figures of Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant, Ltd. , a professional consulting firm specializing in agri-business consulting services to the food business.

If successful, Coca-Cola would overtake France''s Groupe Danone, which held a 16.3 percent share of China''s soft drinks market in 2007, as the country''s top brand with a 17.9 percent market share.

The marriage would be a challenge for domestic juice companies and might change the whole strategic situation of the juice industry, said Huang Bin, president of the Quanzhou branch of the Agricultural Bank of China in Fujian Province.

Experts believe that despite the anti-monopoly examination, the case also faces the worries of Chinese people about the disappearance of a famous domestic brand. Many domestic news reports had the headline "Coca-Cola drinks Huiyuan Juice."

"The brand Huiyuan has been developed in China for many years, and has grown on Chinese people''s emotional connection to the brand. That''s why we cherish the brand, " said Li whose employer had been doing business in the country since 1979. It was also a major sponsor of the 2008 Olympic Games in its fourth largest market country.

She emphasized Coca-Cola would preserve and develop the Huiyuan brand, with the company''s resources of international marketing and product research for the Chinese customers.

In addition, there would be no competition between Huiyuan and Coke, because the latter''s business was a subsidiary to the former, she said. Coca-Cola''s Minute Maid juice and Qoo were juice drink brands while Huiyuan''s strength was in pure fruit juice where it had a 46 percent market share, according to ACNielsen figures.

More hurdles had also emerged to disturb the potential union.

Public opinion has gone against Huiyuan founder and president Zhu Xinli of late, with many saying Coca-Cola was controlling him.

Some said Zhu behaved differently from before on the case as he had said, "I didn''t sell Huiyuan when I was in trouble in 2004. I''ll sell it now because they offer a good price."

Coca-Cola denied the blame, saying Zhu''s words had not been influenced by the company at all.

"President Zhu is an experienced entrepreneur. My company respects him a lot. What he said was decided by himself," Li said.

Despite the hurdles, Li confirmed three major shareholders whoheld more than 60 percent of Huiyuan stock, including Huiyuan, Danone and U.S. private equity firm Warburg Pincus, had approved the international marriage.


China trade surplus jumps in August; consumer inflation lowest in a year

China's trade surplus in August rose 14.9 percent from a year earlier, as imports growth decelerated sharply on lower commodities prices.

The surplus last month was 28.69 billion U.S. dollars, posting gains for the second month in a row. The figure was 25.28 billion U.S. dollars in July and 24.97 billion U.S. dollars last August.

Exports in August jumped 21.1 percent to 134.87 billion U.S. dollars, compared with 26.9 percent in July. Imports climbed 23.1 to 106.18 billion U.S. dollars, down from 33.7 percent in July, the General Administration of Customs said on Wednesday.

"Exports growth decelerated, but imports posted a much bigger slowdown as commodities prices and shipping rates slumped," an official with the Ministry of Commerce told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "This is the main reason for the jump in the surplus."

The slower advance in the Chinese currency against the U.S. dollar also contributed to the surge.

"The yuan remained almost steady against the U.S. dollar since July. This can help exports while giving no further incentives to imports."

In the first eight months, the exports growth slowed on faltering demand from the European Union and Japan, despite a small acceleration in shipments to the U.S.

Exports to the U.S. climbed 10.6 percent from January to August, compared with 9.9 percent in the seven months to July.

"The exports prospects might not be as gloomy as some others claimed," said Mei Xinyu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a government think tank under the Ministry of Commerce.

"Traditional industries posted slower exports growth, but industries like the electro-mechanical sector reported robust expansion," Mei told Xinhua. "China-made goods are still very competitive on the overseas market."

Overseas shipments of electro-mechanical products soared 24.7 percent to 538.65 billion U.S. dollars. Exports of garments and accessories edged up 2.6 percent to 75.03 billion U.S. dollars.

The trade gap narrowed 6.2 percent annually to 151.99 billion U.S. dollars in the first eight months of the year.

Exports increased 22.4 percent to 937.69 billion U.S. dollars during the Jan.-Aug. period and imports were up 30 percent to 785.69 billion U.S. dollars.


The consumer price index , the main gauge of inflation, eased further to 4.9 percent in August, the lowest since July 2007,the National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday. It hit the12-year-high of 8.7 percent in February.

This came on falling food prices. Prices in food, which accounted for a third of the CPI, jumped 10.3 percent last month, down 4.1 percent from July level.

"This shows the effectiveness of the government macro-control measures. It didn't come easy when considering the widespread inflation in the world," said NBS chief economist Yao Jingyuan.

"The turning point for a wave of CPI rises had come, as the economic growth gradually slowed and dampened demand," said economist Wang Xiaoguang.

Zhang Liqun, a researcher with the Development and Research Center of the State Council, said some attention should be paid to the rising production costs and squeeze on corporate profits.

The factory-gate prices, another measure of inflation, gained 10.1 percent in August, the highest since 1996 and up from 10 percent in July.

Zhuang Jian, Asian Development Bank senior economist, urged caution over existing inflation pressure as price rises in non-food items accelerated.

But Zhuang added the easing in consumer inflation left more room for the government to adjust macro-control policies for sustainable economic growth.


Urban fixed asset investment rose 27.4 percent in the eight months to August, 0.1 percentage point higher than the January-July level and 0.7 percentage points higher than a year ago, according to the NBS.

"The investment growth in nominal terms was acceptable and even showed a sign of accelerating," said Zhang Xiaojing, an economist with the China Academy of Social Sciences.

"But when considering the high investment price index, the real growth was lower than a year earlier."

Zhang Hanya, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency, said investment impulse was low because of slower economic growth, Yuan appreciation, rising production costs and tight credit controls.

China's gross domestic product had been decelerating for four straight quarters through June. Exports, fixed asset investment and consumption are the three drivers of the economy.

"Everybody was worrying about the dismal economic outlook. The monetary tightening since last year was a bit too much," said Zhang Hanya.

"It's normal for the economy to retreat from 11 percent to 10 and even 9 percent," said Wang Xiaoguang. "The economic expansion might slow to as low as 8 percent over the next few years. But the authorities would not allow any slower growth than that.

"The GDP would slow further during the rest of the year with slower exports growth and declining housing prices."

The government has raised tax rebates for textile and garments exports, lifted credit quota and scrapped administrative fees for small businesses amid the latest efforts to boost the economy.

"The relaxation in the macro-economic control is surely a trend, but it would be a gradual process," said Wang Xiaoguang. "The economy now doesn't need any drastic stimulus plans."  


China to grant $7.31 mln to Sri Lanka

The Chinese government will grant50 million yuan to Sri Lanka for economic and technical cooperation, visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday.

He said the grant will be provided by China to Sri Lanka under an agreement of economic and technical cooperation signed earlier in Colombo between the two governments.

During his talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama, the two sides agreed to maintain high-level contacts and expand multi-level associations between the two countries' legislatures, political parties, foreign ministries and local governments.

They also agreed to expand the two countries' cooperation in education, tourism and continue to carry out cooperative projects such as the Hambantota Port and Norochcholai Power Plant.

In international fora, the two sides will strengthen their coordination and defend the legitimate rights and interests of developing nations.

Yang arrived in Colombo Tuesday evening for a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka at the invitation of Bogollagama.

He also called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake during his stay in Colombo.

The Chinese foreign minister left Colombo for Beijing Wednesday afternoon.


China up 7 spots on ease of doing business ranking

Reforms helped China rise to 83 from 90 in the "Doing Business 2009" ranking by the World Bank , said the WB in a report on Wednesday.

The country's reforms made it easier to access credit, pay taxes and enforce contracts, said the report, the sixth in the annual series released by the WB and its private sector arm - the International Finance Corporation .

The report said regulatory reforms were gaining momentum worldwide. A record number of 239 countries and regions made reforms between June 2007 and June 2008. The top 10 reformers were Azerbaijan, Albania, Kyrgyz Republic, Belarus, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Egypt.

"Doing Business 2009" ranked 181 economies on the ease of doing business. Singapore kept its top ranking for the third year in a row. New Zealand was the runner-up, and the United States was in the third place.

Other high-ranking countries and territories in East Asia and the Pacific were China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea.

The rankings were based on 10 indicators of business regulation that tracked the time and cost to meet government requirements in business start-up, operation, trade, taxation and closure.


Taiwan reports trade deficit for two consecutive months

Foreign trade in Taiwan registered deficit for two consecutive months, according to figures from the Taiwan authorities.

The island reported trade deficit of 410 million U.S. dollars in July and 30 million U.S. dollars in August, the latest statistics indicated.

Although foreign trade in the first eight months this year still retained a favorable balance of 7.57 billion U.S. dollars, the figure was down 47 percent, or 6.7 billion U.S. dollars, from that of the same period of last year, the authorities said.

Experts said that sounded a "warning signal" to the local economy as the island, with a relatively small local market, relied heavily on foreign trade.

However, meanwhile, Taiwan's trade with the Chinese mainland remained robust. In the first half of this year, its export to the mainland surged 21.7 percent from the same period of last year, with the trade surplus reaching 24.4 billion U.S. dollars and expected to hit new high for the whole year.

The mainland has become "the most important source" of Taiwan's overall trade surplus, said its authorities.

Source: Xinhua

Hong Kong stocks end lower on profit-taking

Profit-taking in blue chips after the benchmark index's sharp rise in the previous session pulled Hong Kong shares lower Tuesday.

The blue-chip Hang Seng Index fell 303.16 points, or 1.46 percent, to 20,491.11 after trading fluctuating between 20,299.97 and 20,543.15 during the session.

Turnover fell to 47.90 billion HK dollars (6.15 billion U.S. dollars from Monday's 68.41 billion HK dollars .

The index had risen 4.3 percent Monday on news of the bailout for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Analysts said the local market is likely to continue to decline in the near term as global economic uncertainties remain an overhang.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks both A and B shares, ended up 0.1 percent at 2,145.78 after two straight days of sharp falls. But turnover was light and analysts said China shares will likely fall further on concerns over a potential drop in corporate earnings and an increase in share supply.

China Mobile fell 2.2 percent to 84.00 HK dollars on profit- taking after it rose 4.8 percent Monday.

Cnooc, China's largest listed offshore oil-and-gas producer by capacity, dropped 3.5 percent to 10.46 HK dollars on falling crude oil prices.

PetroChina ended 2.3 percent lower at 9.28 HK dollars after rising 3.4 percent Monday.

Alumina and aluminum producer Chalco slumped 7 percent to 6.02 HK dollars on concerns over its margins.

Chinese banks fell on lingering concerns over earnings in the second half as the government is not likely to relax its monetary tightening measures, analysts said. Bank of Communications dropped4.3 percent to 8.54 HK dollars, China Construction Bank fell 1.6 percent to 6.10 HK dollars and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was 1 percent lower at 5.23 HK dollars.

The properties sub-index fell 435.87 points, or 1.76 percent, at 24,354.75.

The commerce and industry sub-index went down 262.91 points, or 2.40 percent, to 10,712.88.

The utilities sub-index rose 187.57 points, or 0.43 percent, at 43,857.03.

The Finance sub-index slipped 259.71 points or 0.79 percent at 32,812.14.

Source: Xinhua