Lessons learned bode well for Asian business

Noel Quinn says companies not only increased cost efficiency but also found new markets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 3:58am


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This has been a tough year for business, but beyond the headlines is a compelling Asian story of robustness, adaptability and entrepreneurial flair that bodes well for next year.

Asian businesses, steeped in the harsh lessons of the regional financial crisis 15 years ago, have found ways to maximise their cost efficiency - particularly in supply-chain management - and they have found new markets for their products.

From a banker's perspective, it is clear most companies have sufficient resources to get through the current dip. Unlike 1997, they are not overburdened with debt, and most have avoided significant lay-offs.

But perhaps the most striking trend has been how businesses have streamlined their financial management to cut costs. Producers are taking an in-depth look at their supply chains in a drive to control costs and spot potential vulnerabilities.

Part of that process has been the search for a banking arrangement that minimises costly financial friction among the various links in the chain. HSBC has noticed much keener demand for banking solutions that promote connectivity between companies, between countries and between regions.

The preference for connectivity has been amplified by cash-rich Asian businesses looking for competitively priced acquisitions in Europe and the United States.

We have seen subtle and interesting shifts in acquisition profiles. Asian businesses are still interested in buying Western companies to establish a toehold in developed markets and to use their technical advantages to move up the value chain, but they are now also looking for management skills that will assist them in taking their businesses to the next level.

Asian businesses also spent this year looking outward for growth opportunities, particularly in emerging markets. China is leading the charge: its overseas direct investment surged more than 25 per cent in the first 10 months of the year to reach US$58 billion.

Asian exporters are also forging new trade links to provide infrastructure, goods and services to other emerging economies to take advantage of growing disposable incomes. This is part of a long-term shift in the shape of global growth.

Our research indicates that 17 of the world's 30 largest economies in 2050 will be what are now emerging markets, and the International Monetary Fund predicts that more than 60 per cent of global gross domestic product growth in the next five years will come from outside the developed world.

The continuing uncertainties in Europe and the US have weighed on Asian markets over the past year, but despite these difficulties and the slowdown in China, we are seeing green shoots of a cautious optimism beginning to emerge.

Noel Quinn is HSBC's regional head of commercial banking, Asia-Pacific