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At a time when consumers in Europe and the U.S. struggle with huge debts, most major U.S. companies have been flocking to emerging economies for the next big consumer -- namely, in China. It's no surprise. After all, the East Asian tiger surpassed Japan last year to become the world's second-biggest economy after the U.S. And with a population of about 1.3 billion, China is on track to be the world's third-largest consumer market by 2025, according to McKinsey & Company.

Companies aren't just looking to sell to China -- they also want to help facilitate those sales. Electronic payment services such as American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are trying to tap into a country long known as a nation of savers. Their efforts have been met with limited success though, as U.S. trade officials and major credit card companies say that a single Chinese company dominates the industry. But they aren't giving up without a fight.

A U.S. case is pending asking the World Trade Organization to look into trade barriers that discriminate against U.S. credit and debit card companies that want to participate in China's electronic payments market. On Friday, U.S. trade officials requested that the WTO establish a dispute settlement panel to handle the case after consultation with the organization failed to resolve the dispute.

"Opening up China's market, as China committed to do over four years ago, would create American jobs for the U.S. suppliers of electronic payment services, and a more efficient payment card system in China would be beneficial for both merchants and consumers," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement Friday. The agency first filed the complaint in September after Visa (V, Fortune 500), American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) and MasterCard (MA, Fortune 500) approached U.S. trade officials over concerns that they were being cut out of the Chinese market.

But in a nation in which consumers are more inclined to save than borrow and spend, is the fight to penetrate the Chinese credit card market really worth it? Certainly the case could help hold China accountable for following WTO rules, which is important when it comes to advancing fair trade.

Cultural differences toward borrowing

China UnionPay is currently the country's only national electronic payment network. Created in 2002 by China's central bank, CUP was set up as a national bank card network, representing nearly 200 members and facilitating inter-bank as well as inter-country use of cards. While CUP has partnered with banks including Citibank (C, Fortune 500) and France's Credit Agricole so that CUP cardholders can make withdrawals overseas, its monopoly powers over pricing and services at home has become a sore point for foreign credit card issuers. China doesn't let foreign companies issue cards denominated in its currency. Neither does the country let outside companies build networks to support cards or process transactions.

Nevertheless, credit card usage has surged. Since 2005, credit card issuance to consumers have exploded, with card accounts growing from 11 million in 2004 to an estimated 124 million in 2008, according to McKinsey Global Institute. In a survey conducted in April 2009, 42% of urban consumers said they had a credit card.

But this doesn't mean the credit card business is necessarily lucrative. China is a nation of chronic savers. Households there save about 25% of their discretionary incomes -- about six times the savings rate in the U.S. and three times the rate of even relatively thrifty Japan. Many consumers would rather use savings or even borrow from relatives than use a credit card to buy big-ticket items. They are even less likely to carry balances, according to the survey: Only 6% of all transactions are made with credit cards and outstanding credit-card balances account for less than 0.1% of GDP.

Foreign entrants could try to penetrate China's market all they want, but at least for a while, several factors much bigger than CUP stand in the way of foreign credit card companies getting a piece of China's consumer pie.

For one, credit and debit card companies generally don't get much of a cut from deals struck with local merchants in China. Merchant fees are relatively low and companies will have a hard time convincing locals to raise fees for some time, especially considering it's a country flushed with cash, says Mike Werner, senior equity analyst based in Hong Kong with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

What's more, Werner adds, most card holders do not carry over their outstanding balance month-to-month, making interest payments much less profitable. While more people are carrying plastic, it's truly a love-hate relationship with borrowing and spending yuans at home.

For more than a decade, China has relied on investments and exports to drive its economy. Even the highest government officials acknowledge that its huge surplus can't carry the economy. Albeit slowly, officials have focused on spending more on education, healthcare and other social safety nets to make citizens feel more secure about spending more and saving less.

So despite what some analysts say, credit cards aren't much of an answer to stimulate consumption. China expert Nicholas Lardy says households are already sitting on huge amounts of cash -- household deposits stood at 30.8 trillion renminbi, equivalent of about three-quarters of GDP.

"If households had chosen to spend only a tenth of this sum last year it would have increased household consumption by a fifth and it would have boosted household consumption as a shared of GDP by about 7 percentage points of GDP, offsetting most of the decline in this share observed over the past decade."

What's more, households already have substantial access to credit. Lardy notes loans outstanding to households at the end of 2010 amounted to 30% of GDP and about 50% of household disposable income.

"This is substantially more credit, by either measure, than in other countries at comparable levels of per capita GDP," Lardy says.

So the American Expresses of the world could try to break into the Chinese market, but it already looks pretty crowded -- at least for some time.

由于欧洲和美国的消费者都债台高筑,因此许多大型美国公司都纷纷涌向中国等新兴经济体,以寻找下一个大客户。这并没有什么好奇怪的。中国这条东亚巨龙在去年超过了日本,成为仅次于美国的世界第二大经济体,而且中国还有13亿人口。麦肯锡咨询公司(McKinsey & Company)指出,到2025年,中国将成为世界第三大消费市场。

美国企业不仅仅想在中国销售商品,他们也想设法促进中国人的消费。众所周知,中国是个全民储蓄的国家,而现在美国运通(American Express)、万事达(MasterCard)和维萨(Visa)等电子支付服务企业正在努力打入这样一个市场。不过他们的努力到目前为止收效甚微,美国的贸易官员和这些大型信用卡公司都表示,这个行业现在正被一家中国公司垄断着,不过他们仍然要尽力一搏,不会轻易放弃。

美国已经向世界贸易组织(World Trade Organization)提起了诉讼。美国认为中国的信用卡业存在贸易壁垒,歧视那些想要进入中国电子支付市场的美国信用卡和借记卡公司。上周五,美国贸易官员请求世贸组织建立一个争端解决小组。此前美国贸易官员已经就此问题与世贸组织进行过磋商,但是未能解决争端。

美国贸易代表罗恩?柯克(Ron Kirk)在上周五的声明中表示:“四年多以前,中国就承诺过开放市场。如果中国开放了市场,美国的电子支付服务供应商们就会创造出许多新的工作岗位。另一方面中国的支付卡体系也会更加高效,这对商家和消费者来说都是好事。”去年维萨、美国运通和万事达三家公司找到了美国贸易官员,表示他们正在被排挤出中国市场,于是美国贸易署在去年九月向世贸组织进行了投诉。



中国银联是目前中国唯一的全国性电子支付网络。中国央行在2002年成立了中国银联,作为一个全国性的银行卡网络,它有近200个成员单位,促进了银行卡的跨行和跨国使用。为了使银联执卡人可以进行跨国取款,中国银联与花旗银行(Citibank)和法国农业信贷银行(Credit Agricole)等外国机构进行了合作。不过在中国国内,银联却垄断了定价和服务,这让外国信用卡发行商又妒又怒。中国不允许外国机构发行人民币银行卡,也不允许外国机构建立用于银行卡支持或交易处理的网络。

不过中国的信用卡使用率已经出现激增。自2005年以来,信用卡的发行量一路暴涨。根据麦肯锡全球研究院(McKinsey Global Institute)的数据,中国的信用卡账户在2004年只有1100万个,到2008年已经达到了1.24亿个。在2009年4月进行的一项调查中,42%的城市消费者表示自己拥有信用卡。



Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.2公司派驻香港的高级证券分析师麦克?维尔纳指出,即便信用卡和借记卡公司与中国本土商业银行达成了合作,他们也不会从这种合作中得到多少利润。因为手续费相对较低,而银行卡公司短期内很难说服中国本土银行提高费率,尤其是在中国这样一个大量使用现金的国家。




“如果中国家庭去年消费了这笔钱的十分之一的话,它会使家庭消费增加五分之一,而且会使家庭消费占GDP的比重提高7%。过去10年里,中国家庭消费占GDP的比重出现了下降 ,但如果上面的假设成真,降幅的大部分都会得到抵消。”



2011-02-17 10:46 编辑:kuaileyingyu
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