Asian business is reforming. Its emerging multinationals will change the way we all live ... BUSINESS power follows economic power. In the 1920s British firms owned 40% of the global stock of foreign direct investment. By 1967 America was top dog, with a 50% share. Behind those figures lie cultural revolutions. The British spread the telegraph and trains in Latin America. American firms sold a vision of the good life, honed by Hollywood and advertising. Kellogg’s changed what the rich world ate for breakfast, and Kodak how it remembered holidays. The next corporate revolution, as we describe in our special report this week, is happening in Asia. This too will change how the world lives. ... rules that have governed Asian capitalism for the past two decades are changing. Asian firms are having to become brainier, more nimble and more global. ... The immediate motivation is underperformance: growth has slowed, and Asian shares have lagged American ones by 40% in the past three years. Three deeper trends are also at work. First, labour costs are rising, not least in China, and East Asia’s workforce is ageing. Second, Asia’s middle class is becoming more demanding. They are no longer satisfied with fake Louis Vuitton handbags; they want clean air, safe food and more leisure, and are madly in love with the internet. Third, competition has intensified from Western multinationals, which have invested $2 trillion in Asia. They also now use the same cheapish labour, and they generally have much more sophisticated supply chains, brands and R&D.
- Also: The Economist - Business in Asia: How to keep roaring < 5min
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- Also: The Economist - Governance: Avoiding the dinosaur trap < 5min
- Also: The Economist - China Mobile: Get up and dance < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Hutchison Whampoa: Now for the fat-cow years < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Globalisation: The fear factor < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Convergence: One world < 5min
From 1980 to 2013, vast markets opened around the world while corporate-tax rates, borrowing costs, and the price of labor, equipment, and technology all fell. The net profits posted by the world’s largest companies more than tripled in real terms from $2 trillion in 1980 to $7.2 trillion by 2013,1 pushing corporate profits as a share of global GDP from 7.6 percent to almost 10 percent. Today, companies from advanced economies still earn more than two-thirds of global profits, and Western firms are the world’s most profitable. Multinationals have benefited from rising consumption and industrial investment, the availability of low-cost labor, and more globalized supply chains. ... But there are indications of a very significant change in the nature of global competition and the economic environment. While global revenue could increase by some 40 percent, reaching $185 trillion by 2025, profit growth is coming under pressure. This could cause the real-growth rate for the corporate-profit pool to fall from around 5 percent to 1 percent, practically the same share as in 1980, before the boom began. ... Profits are shifting from heavy industry to idea-intensive sectors that revolve around R&D, brands, software, and algorithms. Sectors such as finance, information technology, media, and pharmaceuticals—which have the highest margins—are developing a winner-take-all dynamic, with a wide gap between the most profitable companies and everyone else. Meanwhile, margins are being squeezed in capital-intensive industries, where operational efficiency has become critical. ... As profit growth slows, there will be more companies fighting for a smaller slice of the pie, and incumbent industry leaders cannot focus simply on defending their market niche.