China’s rebalancing act puts consumer to the fore

December 10, 2010

consumerWal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, now has 189 stories in China, according to its website. Soon it will have many more.  The U.S. chain has announced plans to open a series of “compact hypermarkets”, using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Wal-Mart stores are a bit different than the one’s you might find in, say, Little Rock Arkansas. They sell live toads and turtles for one thing, The Economist reported. But they also sell the appliances, gadgets, and housewares that Wal-Mart stores merchandise everywhere.

And business is booming. Third-quarters sales in China soared 15.2 percent from a year earlier, according to the Financial Times story, compared with a paltry 1.4 percent inthe United States.

China’s consumption has been growing. Quite fast, in fact. Yet it still acounts for just a third of GDP, compared with around 60 percent in Europe and about 70 percentin the United States. But that is starting to fundamentally change. A Reuters Special Report by Alan Wheatley, “The Chinese Consumer Awakens” notes that wages are rising fast. People are moving into new cities in China’s vast interior, and manufacturers and retailers are following them. Call it China’s great rebalancing act, as the government tries to promote more consumption and rely less on cheap exports from “the workshop of the world” for future growth.

Timothy Geithner certainly hopes to see this. The U.S. Treasury Secretary is counting on hundreds of millions of Chinese to spend more and save less. That way, Chinese factories would produce more for domestic consumption and less for export, helping to narrow the trade imbalances that are destabilizing the global economy.

Photo caption: Chinese vegetable vendor sleeping in open air market in Changzhi, Shanxi province. REUTERS/stringer

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Besides chocolate what other US products can you find in a chineese Wal-Mart or is the word trade just a loose term for Company Store.

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