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SMEs scouting for ways to remain in business
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In the first half of 2008, much before the world saw the capital markets going topsy turvy amid the global economic slowdown, over 67,000 SMEs in China went bankrupt, while more than 10,000 labor-intensive textile enterprises downed shutters, according to figures from the Department of SMEs under the National Development and Reform Commission.

In October, 714 companies were closed in Dongguan in Guangdong province, home to over 60,100 private companies and a major manufacturing center in China.

Two women make beds on a production line of the small private firm Nangang Shoemaking Factory in Foshan, Guangdong province. [China Daily]

"We will see more companies closing in the coming months, with the figure likely to cross 1,000 after Christmas," says Dongguan Deputy Mayor Jiang Ling.

Most of the international buyers of Chinese products failed to get letters of credit in October leading to significant cancellations of Christmas orders, says Frank FX. Gong, chief China economist at JPMorgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Limited in a recent report. "Indeed, 'things suddenly ceased' was the common comment we heard on the ground lately," he says.

But for some like Luo Chun, sales director of tin box maker Dongguan Tinpak Co, the freeze on Christmas orders has not yet meant closing. Luo says overseas order fell by 10 percent from June to October, normally the peak time for Christmas orders.

"Over 95 percent of our products are exported to West Europe. Demand from our customers in these regions has fallen sharply, after the financial turmoil worsened in September. If the conditions worsen further, we will see our order book falling further in December," Luo says.

"We have revised our annual profit expectations to 40 million yuan this year from 60 million yuan, and also suspended our expansion plans in the US market due to the large number of closures in our industry. It is time to scale back, and we have already taken the steps," he says.

Dongguan Tinpak has cut the number of weekly working days to five from seven and also started trimming its workforce, all at a time normally considered the busiest in the year.

"We will curtail our management team soon if December orders continue to slide," Luo says, explaining that personnel costs have gone up by 20 percent, since the new labor laws came into place. Personnel costs currently account for a lion's share of the operating costs, he says.

Anecdotal evidence shows that businesses become more cautious on hiring and spending at times when the global and domestic economy are grappling with downturns, with many even resorting to cutting the workforce, says Gong.

"We laid off four employees in October to keep our budget in control, as the human workforce is the most manageable cost for us at present," says Zheng Hao, general manager of Tuolima Network Technologies Co. Ltd, a Hangzhou-based fiber optic networks supplier that had 40 people on its payroll.

The company now faces uncertain times as it exports over 90 percent of its products to East Europe, which is also grappling to combat the fast spreading financial turmoil. "The sales revenue target for this year was US$15 million initially, but we have now scaled it down to US$10million, same as last year. We may see a negative growth in 2009," Zheng says.

Tuolima had laid off three people in its sales department in September. "Our human resource costs have risen by 10 percent after the new labor laws," says the company's Human Resource Manager Xu Ye.

But Tuolima was one of the few companies that spotted the clouds on the horizon much before others and decided to take preemptive action. For starters it decided to drop all its ambitious expansion plans before October itself. To secure cash flow, the company closed its Wuhan office in September after nine months of operation. Early this year it also decided to close one of its offices in the US to cut costs. "Cash is king to weather the winter, and we will hang on until a recovery materializes," Zheng says.

(China Daily December 1, 2008)


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