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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Floating corpses...

In the wonderful booming economy of China, everything is in demand, or so the official line goes. Around the world, people and businesses expect China to have an insatiable demand for everything.  Even as a recent Beyondbrics post points out, burial space - the following extract gives some flavour of the demand for sea burials in Shanghai:

And not everyone is lucky enough to be buried in Shenyang – or in fact, in the ground at all. The Shanghai government recently increased subsidies it pays for sea burial fivefold, from Rmb400 ($65) to Rmb2,000, leading to an explosion of would-be seafaring corpses. Some families were told they would have to wait until 2015 to have their relatives buried, until the government was able to persuade another ship owner to add his vessel to the sea burial fleet. It is hoped this will clear a backlog of 2,000 urns of ashes waiting to be scattered at sea.
In 2010, government officials were predicting the city could run out of room to bury its dead by the end of the decade. Shanghai Daily says so far 25,000 urns have been emptied at sea, saving more than 75,000 square meters of burial land. The city wants to boost sea burial to 2 per cent of total burials, up from 1.5 per cent now.
As the article notes (and has been extensively reported worldwide), these are not the only corpses which are floating around China now or into the future, as recent weeks have seen discoveries of large numbers of animal carcasses in waterways, including those feeding municipal water supplies.  No reasons have been given by officials for the discoveries, although there is speculation that it may be an unintended effect of recent food safety crackdowns.

This provides an interesting backdrop amidst attempts by the top leadership to focus on greater wellbeing of ordinary citizens.  But it is reflective of the corporate atmosphere in China at the moment as well.  Last week saw the first Chinese bond default as the main subsidiary of former solar giant Suntech entered into bankruptcy.  This had been predicted by many for some time (and noted on this blog) and the fundamental weaknesses remain in the industry, as the opportunities for solar panel cells remain troubling.

How many other floating corpses will there be in China?  Probably a lot.  In addition to other Chinese solar companies like LDK and Chaori which are also facing significant weakness, signs of trouble in bigger state-owned companies were also present with news that CNPC was planning to sell stakes in certain pipeline projects (the linked article mentions strained working capital - not a good sign).

Strong earnings in the corporate sector are supposed to ensure that there is a successful rebalancing of the economy- with growth in Chinese consumer spending and slowing of exports.  At least on the consumer side that does not seem to be happening.  Local sportswear retailers, once the darlings of various stockmarkets when they listed shares a couple of years ago, are predicting tough conditions for this year, while international brand Nike has seen declining sales in comparison to this time last year.

Any doubts as to the difficulty of the consumer story in China should be satisfied by the below picture - taken from queues of people who attend a McDonald's restaurant promotion which involved a free breakfast giveaway.  While the comments section of the article was full of debate as to why those queuing would cover their faces - the below image does not suggest a land of happy rampant consumerism!

Caption competition
On a final note we are welcoming suggestions for a caption for this picture, which is of the underside of a newly built bridge in Nanning city, which unfortunately only clears a pedestrian walkway by 1.3 metres.  Prizes to be announced!

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