Chinese consumers have more discretionary income to spend on entertainment, education and travel after years of robust economic growth. That additional income has created a bright outlook for companies that serve them.
China is losing its appetite for dump trucks, iron ore and construction cranes. But the Chinese still want to travel and give their kids a better education.
Growth in the world’s second-largest economy is decelerating and rattling financial markets around the world. Behind that slowdown is an evolutionary shift in China’s economy — from a dependence on exports and investment in factories and housing — to a reliance on spending by its emerging middle class.
That transition will affect which U.S. companies stand to benefit and which will be squeezed as China’s growth slides from the double-digit annual rates of the mid-2000s to 7 percent.
By the numbers
0.2 percenthow much U.S. merchandise exports to China rose in the second quarter from a year earlier.
how much services exports, which include tourism and banking, rose in the same period.
The shift is likely to pinch American manufacturers that prospered during China’s investment boom — makers of heavy-construction equipment and industrial machinery, for instance.
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But the service sector — a broad category that includes things like restaurant meals, haircuts and hotel stays — remains “reasonably robust” and has been a dominant driver of China’s growth since the first half of 2012, said economist Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“Yes, China is slowing,” said Jeremy Haft, an entrepreneur, consultant and author of the forthcoming book “Unmade in China: The Hidden Truth about China’s Economic Miracle.” “But households have huge (savings). People need to keep eating, walking, powering their homes.”
The Princeton Review, a Natick, Mass., company that helps students prepare for standardized tests and college-entrance exams, remains bullish on China. The company declines to provide specific sales numbers. But the number of Chinese students enrolling in U.S. colleges is growing by double digits every year.
“We do not see any slowdown in the future,” said Steven Chou, international vice president at Princeton Review.
Also doing well are American companies that make things in China and export them back to the United States, where economic growth is solid.
Haft, for example, runs a company that exports U.S. cattle hides to China. Business is booming, he says, because the Chinese turn the hides into wallets and ship them back to the United States, where the economy and consumer demand are comparatively healthy.
Recent trade numbers highlight the changes: U.S. merchandise exports to China rose just 0.2 percent in the second quarter to $30.5 billion from a year earlier. By contrast, services exports, which include tourism and banking, surged nearly 14 percent to $11.97 billion.
Boeing, the biggest provider of commercial jets in China, forecasts demand for 6,330 new jetliners in that country by 2034, with a value of $950 billion. Most of those new planes will handle passenger growth. Company executives said in a recent podcast that they’re seeing “tremendous” demand for international flights, and they also expect a surge in demand for cargo-carrying aircraft.
At General Motors, which sells more vehicles in China than any of its U.S.-based competitors, sales in July slipped 4 percent compared with a year ago. But the company’s first-half sales in China rose 4.4 percent to a record 1.7 million vehicles, and the carmaker still forecasts single-digit growth for the rest of the year.
The shift is hurting companies that have benefited from China’s building boom. Construction-equipment giant Caterpillar, for instance, said its Asia-Pacific region sales dropped 21 percent in the second quarter — a casualty of a slowing China.
China is facing a construction glut, which is leading to a deceleration in property investment that will likely bottom over the next few quarters, Lardy, the economist, said.
“Ninety percent of the population already has a house,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of very underutilized real estate.”
China’s slowdown is expected to contribute to a year-over-year decline in the total revenue for roughly 60 chip companies in the current quarter ending in September, predicted B Riley analyst Craig Ellis. It would be the first quarterly drop in three years.
But these companies are also somewhat insulated because they supply Chinese factories run by contractors hired by Apple and other device makers. Those factory orders are more heavily influenced by consumer demand for finished smartphones, tablets and other products in the United States, Europe, Japan and other markets.
“No chip company is going to be completely immune” to China’s slowdown, Ellis said. “But it’s also important to distinguish where the hardware is being built and where it’s being consumed.”
Tech companies still see China as an important end market. Apple reported that more than a quarter of its revenue for the three-month period that ended in June came from selling products like the iPhone to consumers and businesses in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Responding to investor worries about Apple’s reliance on the Chinese market, CEO Tim Cook declared late last month that the company’s business was still growing in China, where new iPhone activations had “actually accelerated over the past few weeks.”
In a conference call with analysts in late July, Cook called China a “fantastic geography.”
“Nothing that’s happened has changed our fundamental view that China will be Apple’s largest market at some point in the future,” he said.