By Thomas Clouse
Great Wall Motors
Competition is fierce in China's automotive industry, and slowing sales growth this year has added even more pressure to the country's automotive producers. Great Wall has responded to that pressure with strong sales both at home and abroad. Domestic light vehicle sales were up 29% in the first eight months of 2012, according to figures from industry analysts LMC Automotive. The company also exports to more than 100 countries and in February opened a factory in Europe, a first among Chinese automakers. The firm has run into difficulties in some markets, however, issuing a safety-related recall in August for some products sold in Australia.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
As China's economic prowess expands globally, so do the reputations of its top brands. Kweichow Moutai has long been a favorite among China's elite, and now the high-end liquor firm is gaining ground in foreign markets as well. The company's net profits grew by 42.6% in the first half of the year, after a remarkable 72% gain in 2011. A ban enacted in March on expensive liquor at Chinese government events may have slowed sales growth slightly at home, but revenue from overseas sales jumped 78% in the first half of 2012.
Gree Electric Appliances
Gree Electric Appliances opened its doors in 1991 and has grown to become the leading producer of residential air conditioners not only in China but around the world. Gree has factories in Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam and offices in Europe, the US and other parts of the world. The company has introduced innovative methods to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from its products. The company's domestic and international businesses boosted Gree's bottom line by 30% in the first half of 2012.
Internet shopping has taken off in China in the past year, and as China's largest independent online clothing retailer, VANCL has seen its sales soar. Sales for the private company could increase fivefold this year to about RMB10 billion ($1.6 billion), according to estimates given to the press from the CEO. Other media reports, however, indicate that the young company has yet to transform its high sales figures into profits. To cut costs, the company recently began sourcing production to Bangladesh. VANCL is preparing to list publicly but has postponed its IPO amid weak market sentiment.
Lenovo is the world's second-largest PC maker and China's largest producer of Android tablets. The company has made rapid progress in the country's smartphone market this year, with mainland China sales outpacing those of the Apple iPhone. Lenovo plans to build on that progress by opening a RMB5 billion plant to research and produce mobile devices in 2013 and is investing heavily overseas. It struck a deal in September to buy Brazil's largest electronics maker, CCE, and plans to construct a PC production plant in the US.
Private firm Alibaba Group owns and operates seven major Internet business brands, many of which are challenging their well-established Western counterparts. Company executives have publicly predicted that revenue this year from the company's online Taobao Marketplace shopping platforms will surpass that of eBay and Amazon combined, and the company has introduced its own mobile operating system to challenge Apple and Android. Earlier this year, Alibaba Group bought back half of a 40% stake previously sold to Yahoo—setting the stage for a possible IPO.
Tencent defies traditional industry classifications. The company operates China's most popular Web portal and manages several online social media products, including its popular QQ instant messaging service, Qzone social network and Weibo microblogs. The company continues to expand its video, online game and news selections. In July it invested in Caixin Media, one of the country's most respected news providers, and will cooperate with Caixin to produce news projects. Tencent recently introduced a multilingual mobile text and voice messaging application WeChat and is promoting it at home and abroad.
METALS AND MINING
China National Gold Group
The Chinese government's efforts to curb real estate investment have dampened demand for copper, iron, aluminum and other metals used in construction. But the uncertainty over the economy has bumped up demand for one metal, gold. China National Gold Group has capitalized on this demand, with its first-half sales rising 61% year-on-year. The company is working to increase its supplies of the valuable metal; it bid for a stake in mining company African Barrick Gold in August.
OIL AND GAS
Natural gas producer Kunlun Energy has posted remarkable growth this year, with revenue and profits up 131% and 112% respectively. While slower economic expansion at home and abroad has dampened petroleum markets, environmental concerns have pushed up demand for cleaner-burning natural gas. Kunlun, a subsidiary of PetroChina, derives 80% of its revenue from its natural gas business and is investing heavily to expand its exploration and development capabilities. Earlier this year, Kunlun raised money through an equity offering to invest in potential acquisitions and enhance its liquefied natural gas business.
Auhua Clean Energy
Renewable energy projects around the globe are facing problems with oversupply and over-investment, and Chinese companies in particular have suffered. ACE has taken a different approach than most of its peers, focusing on small-scale, solar-powered hot water heaters rather than large-scale alternative power projects. The strategy boosted the company's sales by 35% in the first half of the year and garnered the attention of several construction companies, which have sought out cooperation agreements. ACE opened a new factory this year, boosting its capacity by 80% over early 2011, and listed on London's small-cap AIM exchange in April.
Jiangsu Shagang Group
Jiangsu Shagang is one of China's most well known private-sector success stories. The company began with private investment in 1975 and has grown into one of China's top-five steel companies, employing more than 35,000 people. The company plans to continue its expansion beyond China's borders, according to management statements to the press, and will seek out investments overseas this year. With steel demand flagging and many of China's smaller steel companies struggling, Shagang may find acquisitions at home as well.