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日本特别报告5——吐旧纳新 势在必行

(2010-12-10 08:52:38)







分类: 地球Media文摘

Corporate euthanasia

吐旧纳新 势在必行


To boost productivity at home, Japan needs to kill off some of its old, unprofitable companies



Nov 18th 2010



THE oldest company in the world is Kongo Gumi, a construction firm based in Osaka. It started building Buddhist shrines in 578AD, and was still run by a man surnamed Kongo 40 generations later. The next four firms by age are also Japanese. According to Yasuchika Hasegawa, chief executive of Takeda Pharmaceuticals (founded in 1781), more than 20,000 Japanese firms are at least 100 years old.

世界上历史最悠久的公司叫金刚组,是大阪的一家建筑公司。它始建于公元578年,当时建造佛教寺庙,经过40代人的薪火相传,至今仍由一个姓氏为金刚的人所掌控。历史悠久性排名靠前的另外四家公司也是日本人开设的。据武田制药(Takeda Pharmaceuticals,始建于1781年)的首席执行官长谷川闲史(Yasuchika Hasegawa)称,日本有至少100年历史的公司有两万多家。


This has many merits in a world where most firms come and go. No one wants to see Japan’s industrial heirlooms vanish. But too many businesses are surviving because credit costs nothing, and bankers care little whether their borrowers are profitable or not. That has two damaging consequences: it ossifies corporate culture, and it drags down productivity.



According to Mr Feldman at Morgan Stanley MUFG, since the 1990s productivity has been rising by an average of around 1% a year. That is not too bad by rich-world standards, but the trend is downwards, and if it drops much further GDP will turn negative because of the country’s demographic drag.



Productivity is poorest in service industries, source of 70% of Japan’s output, but an official at METI describes it as “very weak across the board”. In the domestic market, where two-thirds of output is generated, production per worker in manufacturing is adversely affected by too much competition. That is because companies refuse to consolidate, clinging onto a wide portfolio of businesses, so industries are saturated and profit margins are poor.



In carmaking, for instance, Japan has Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Mazda and Subaru. South Korea mainly has Hyundai. As a result, says METI, the market per car company in Japan, with a population 2.5 times that of South Korea, is only two-thirds the size of its neighbour’s. Moreover, the slowdown in the global car market since 2008 has left Japan with huge overcapacity.



In the service industries, meanwhile, the problem is too little competition rather than too much. Few foreign firms are active in Japan. Myriad construction firms are kept alive by lashings of political pork. The country has 350,000 wholesalers, many of whom just sell to each other, and most make only just enough to keep going. Many of the 1m retail outfits serve as tax dodges for pensioners who sell a few items of stationery or snacks from their front room. They rarely go bust because they have no overheads, and stop only when the owners are too old to carry on.



Both manufacturing and services suffer from head-in-the-sand attitudes in the finance industry. Banks are sitting on huge amounts of money because of the high stock of savings, but they mostly put it into ultra-safe Japanese government bonds. A senior executive at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG), Japan’s largest bank, describes this as a “public mission” to help sustain public finances. After lending mishaps in Latin America in the 1970s his bank has an abiding desire to be cautious. “We’ve existed for 130 years. Prudence has really helped us to become a survivor.”



The upshot, however, is a disturbing lack of risk capital—not to mention vision. Bankers say their customers have little appetite for loans, but a third of those in the system are made by government entities, which may crowd out the private sector. One-quarter of the nation’s household assets sit in the postal system, which has been beset by on-off privatisation plans.



According to Naomi Fink of the banking arm of MUFG, much of the liquidity available is in the form of inter-company loans, meaning that big firms keep their suppliers afloat. That seems to be the mission of the finance industry as a whole: to keep everyone afloat. It is not hard to do when money is so cheap. But given the lack of growth in the Japanese economy over the past 20 years, it suggests that many companies are on life support.

据三菱日联(MUFG)银行部门的内奥米·芬克(Naomi Fink)称,大部分可用的流动资金是以公司间贷款的形式存在的,也就是说,大公司养活他们的供给方。这似乎是整个金融业的使命:不让一个人溺死。当货币不值钱的时候不难实现。但是考虑到过去20年中日本经济增长缓慢,这意味着,很多公司都已命悬一线。


Japan’s big banks could make more money if they were sufficiently bold and outward-looking to enter foreign credit markets and fund the expansion of Japanese firms abroad, where there are many more growth opportunities. Hiroshi Watanabe, head of the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), the government agency that increasingly funds overseas projects, laments that “the megabanks are still very cautious about lending in foreign currencies. They feel comfortable getting money in yen but they don’t know how to raise it abroad.”

如果日本大银行能够足够大胆,视野够广,可以涉足国外信贷市场,并且为日企的海外扩张提供金融支持,他们将大大受益,因为国外市场有更多的增长机遇。为日本海外项目提供金融支持日益增多的政府机构——日本国际合作银行(JBIC)的总裁渡边博史(Hiroshi Watanabe)悲叹,“在日本的大银行对于外汇放贷仍很谨慎。他们觉得赚到日元很安心,但他们不知道怎样在海外用日元融资。”


Naoto Kan’s new government appears to have grasped the importance of productivity. It has introduced a ten-year strategy that seems to be aiming for the best of all worlds—a strong economy, strong public finances, a strong welfare system—but its priority is growth. “We need to revive an energetic Japan,” Mr Kan said at his inaugural news conference in June.



The growth targets—3% a year in nominal, 2% in real terms by 2020—may be based more on hope than experience, but the diagnosis of the industrial problems is refreshingly clear-eyed. METI says Japan’s dependence on the car industry, which generated half of all GDP growth from 2000-07, is unsustainable. It also points to Japan’s uncompetitive tax system. Big firms pay around twice as much as their South Korean rivals in absolute terms, yet tax revenues are notoriously weak. The government plans to lower corporate tax rates in order to boost competitiveness.



But is its solution the right one? It believes it must actively support industries with strong global growth potential, such as clean energy, because everyone else is doing it. But by “picking winners”, it risks a huge misallocation of resources if it makes the wrong choice.



At least there is broad agreement between the government and Japanese business about which industries deserve the most support. Japanese car firms and battery-technology companies are already well placed to create low-energy products: CO2 emissions per unit of GDP are half those in America, and brands like the hybrid Prius have become household names. “We were behind in the IT revolution. The green revolution is a competition we cannot lose,” says the METI official.


   Japan inside



The government also wants to develop medium-sized firms with very high-tech products that form the basis of future devices. Like “Intel inside”, the logo the chip company puts on computers, products could carry a “Japan inside” badge of quality, METI muses.

日本政府也要发展生产高科技产品的中型企业,因为高科技产品构成了未来器械的基础。经济产业省还戏称,他们要像芯片生产商因特尔一样,计算机上都贴有因特尔的商标“Intel inside”,日本的产品也要贴一个标志质量的徽章“Japan inside”(日本制造)。


Given Japan’s broad manufacturing base, one big opportunity could be to develop cross-industry partnerships involving, say, water, nuclear power or railways that tap into the need for infrastructure development in emerging markets. Mr Watanabe of JBIC points to the example of harnessing solar or wind power with battery recharging. It is not the same type of connectivity that produced Facebook and Twitter, but it would have its uses.



Boosting productivity, however, is not just about finding the industrial darlings of tomorrow. It is also about weeding out today’s second-raters so that profitable new businesses can spring up instead. To make that happen, Japan needs to do more to open up to foreign competition by forging free-trade agreements (FTAs). Japan has a handful with smaller economies like Mexico, Chile and Singapore, and has an economic partnership with the Association of South-East Asian Nations. Meanwhile its ambitious rival, South Korea, has signed FTAs with the European Union and others, and is restarting talks with America. Negotiation of such treaties has been held up by Japan’s powerful farm lobby—even though farming accounts for just 2% of GDP. Everyone else is paying a huge opportunity cost to protect those farmers.



What Japan needs most of all is a huge boost to its domestic economy, which is still its greatest source of demand. There are many ideas for achieving this, such as reviving its housing industry by getting it to build properties suitable for an ageing population, and beefing up its health-care sector. The finance industry too should be finding ways to encourage the elderly to do something constructive with some of their ¥1,500 trillion savings hoard. But that would require improvements in Japan’s social-security system, which delivers inadequate pensions and offers weak safety nets for those who lose their jobs.




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