China’s economic surge is one of the biggest stories of the 21st century.
Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and China’s swelling middle class has attracted the interest of Western companies.
As many American companies have discovered, doing business in China is far from straightforward. Recent history is littered with examples of companies that entered the Chinese market to great fanfare, only to retreat a few years later.
Calling Off The Offensive
Today’s infographic highlights 11 companies that ended up tapping the brakes on their ambitious forays on the other side of the Pacific.
Then, we take a look at the factors that influenced these strategic withdrawals.
Here are some high profile examples of corporate u-turns by American companies operating in the Chinese market:
When Google China’s search engine was launched in 2006, the company had made the controversial decision to censor search results within the country. Google publicly displayed a disclaimer indicating that some results were removed, which created tensions with the Chinese government.
For a while, things seemed to be going well. Even though a domestic company, Baidu, had captured the majority of the Chinese search market, Google did have a respectable market share of about 30%.
Google China’s fortune took a turn for the worse in 2010 after a major hack – Operation Aurora – exposed user data as well as intellectual property. The hack, which originated from within China, was the last straw for Google’s executive team. After one last ditch effort to provide unfiltered search results within China, the company retreated beyond the firewall.
Amazon was an early entrant into the Chinese market. In 2004, the company acquired Joyo – an online shopping site – which was eventually rebranded to Amazon China in 2011.
Amazon China achieved some early success hitting a market share of around 15%, but today, that market share has eroded to less than 1%. Facing nearly insurmountable competition from domestic e-commerce platforms like JD and Taobao, the company recently announced it would be exiting the Chinese market.
After arriving fashionably late for the ride-hailing party in 2014, it quickly became clear that Uber was facing an uphill battle against well-funded domestic rivals. After only two years, Uber elected to u-turn out of the Chinese market.
Though Uber’s tactical exit from China is often viewed as a failure, the company has earned upwards of $8B through its sale to competitor Didi Chuxing.
A Two-Way Street
Now that red-hot growth at home is beginning to taper off, a number of Chinese companies have begun their push into other markets around the world. Much like their American counterparts, brands pushing beyond China’s borders are seeing varied success in their expansion efforts.
One high-profile example is Huawei. The telecommunications giant has been making inroads in countries around the world – particularly in emerging markets – but has seen pushback and scrutiny in a number of developed economies. Huawei has become a lightning rod for growing concerns over government surveillance and China’s growing influence over the global communications network.
Already, Australia has blocked the company from participating in its 5G network, and in the United States, government agencies are banned from buying Huawei gear.
If negative sentiment continues to build, it remains to be seen whether Huawei and other Chinese companies will follow the playbook of American brands in China, and turn the car around.
Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain
The cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While chocolate is a beloved sweet treat globally, many cocoa farmers are living a bitter reality.
Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain
From bean to bar, the cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While the end product is something most of us enjoy, this also comes with a human cost.
Based on how much cocoa comes from West Africa, it’s likely that most of the chocolates we eat have a little bit of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in them. The $130B chocolate industry relies on cocoa farming for supply of chocolate’s key ingredient. Yet, many cocoa farmers make less than $1/day.
The above graphic maps the major trade flows of cocoa and allows us to dive deeper into its global supply chain.
From Bean to Bar: Stages in the Cocoa Supply Chain
Cocoa beans go through a number of stages before being used in chocolate products.
- Harvesting, Fermenting, and Drying
First, farmers harvest cocoa beans from pods on cacao plants. Next, they are fermented in heaps and covered with banana leaves. Farmers then dry and package the cocoa beans for domestic transportation.
- Domestic Transportation, Cleaning, and Exporting
Domestic transporters carry packaged cocoa beans to either cleaning warehouses or processing factories. Cocoa beans are cleaned and prepared for exports to the chocolate production hubs of the world.
- Processing and Chocolate Production
Processing companies winnow, roast, and grind cocoa beans and then convert them into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, or cocoa cakes—which are mixed with other ingredients like sugar and milk to produce chocolate products.
Cocoa farming and trade are at the roots of the chocolate industry, and the consistent supply of cocoa plays a critical role in providing us with reasonably-priced chocolate.
So where exactly does all this cocoa come from?
The Key Nations in Cocoa’s Global Supply Chain
Growing cocoa has specific temperature, water, and humidity requirements. As a result, the equatorial regions of Africa, Central and South America, and Asia are optimal for cocoa farming.
These regions host the biggest cocoa exporters by value.
|Rank (2019)||Exporting Country||Value (US$, millions)|
|1||Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮||$3,575|
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are responsible for 70% of global cocoa production, and cocoa exports play a huge role in their economies. Although the majority of exporters come from equatorial regions, Belgium stands out in fifth place.
On the other hand, most of the top importers are in Europe—the Netherlands and Germany being the top two.
|Rank (2019)||Importing Country||Value (US$, millions)|
In third place, the U.S. primarily sources its cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Ecuador. Mars, Hershey, Cargill, and Blommer—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers and processors—are headquartered in the U.S.
Finally, it comes as no surprise that the biggest importers of cocoa beans are among the biggest chocolate exporters.
|Rank (2019)||Country||Value of Chocolate Exports
Not only is the Netherlands the biggest importer of beans, but it’s also the biggest processor—grinding 600,000 tons annually—and the fourth largest exporter of chocolate products.
Belgium is another key nation in the supply chain, importing cocoa beans from producing countries and exporting them across Europe. It’s also home to the world’s largest chocolate factory, supporting its annual chocolate exports worth $3.1 billion.
Breaking Down the Cocoa Supply Chain: Who Gets What
Without farmers, both the cocoa and chocolate industries are likely to suffer from shortages, with domino effects on higher overall costs. Yet, they have little ability to influence prices at present.
Farmers are among the lowest earners from a tonne of sold cocoa—accounting for just 6.6% of the value of the final sale.
Low incomes also translate into numerous other issues associated with cocoa farming.
The Bitter Side of Cocoa Farming
The World Bank has established the threshold for extreme poverty at $1.90/day. Cocoa farmers in Ghana make $1/day, while those in Côte d’Ivoire make around $0.78/day—both significantly below the extreme poverty line.
Farmers are often unable to bear the costs of cocoa farming as a result of low incomes. In turn, they employ children, who miss out on education, are exposed to hazardous working conditions, and get paid little or no wages.
|Country||Cocoa Farmers Making $1/day or less||Children in Cocoa Agriculture|
|Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮||600,000||891,500|
To make matters worse, cocoa farming is primarily responsible for deforestation and illegal farming in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana—adding environmental issues to the mix.
These interconnected problems call for action, so what is being done to fight them?
Combating Cocoa’s Concerns
Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers—have made several pledges to eradicate child labor in cocoa farming over the last two decades, but haven’t reached their targets.
In addition, organizations such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade are working to increase traceability in the supply chain by selling ‘certified cocoa’, sourced from farms that prohibit child labor.
More recently, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana announced a fixed premium of US$400/tonne on cocoa futures, aiming to improve farmer livelihoods by creating a union for cocoa, also known colloquially as the “COPEC” for the industry.
While these initiatives have had some positive impacts, more still needs to be done to successfully eradicate large-scale child labor and poverty of those involved in cocoa’s bittersweet supply chain.
Volatile Returns: Commodity Investing Through Miners and Explorers
The companies that mine or explore for metals offer additional leverage to commodity prices, creating opportunities for astute investors.
Volatile Returns: Commodity Investing Through Miners
Investors consider gold and silver as safe haven investments. But the companies that produce gold and silver often offer volatile returns, creating opportunities for astute investors.
Volatility is a double-edged sword, particularly when it comes to commodity investing. During the good times, it can create skyrocketing returns. But during bad times, it can turn ugly.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Prospector Portal, and shows how investing in precious metals equities can outperform or underperform the broader metals market.
Capitalizing on Volatility: Timing Matters
Just like most investments, timing matters with commodities.
Due to the complex production processes of commodities, unexpected demand shocks are met with slower supply responses. This, along with other factors, creates commodity supercycles—extended periods of upswings and downswings in prices.
Investors must time their investments to take advantage of this volatility, and there are multiple ways to do so.
Three Ways to Invest in Commodities
There are three primary routes investors can take when it comes to investing in commodities.
|Direct physical investment||
Among these, commodity-related equities offer by far the most leverage to changes in prices. Let’s dive into how investors can use this leverage to their advantage with volatile metal prices.
The Fundamentals of Investing in Mining Equities
When it comes to commodity investing, targeting miners and mineral exploration companies presents fundamental benefits and drawbacks.
As metal prices rise, the performance of mining companies improves in several ways—while in deteriorating conditions, they do the opposite:
|Category||Rising Commodity Prices||Falling Commodity Prices|
|Outlook||- Improved outlook||- Deteriorated outlook|
|Stock Price Movement||- Equity growth||- Equity decline|
|Dividend Payouts||- Increased dividends||- Decreased dividends|
|Financial Performance||- Increased earnings||- Decreased earnings|
With the right timing, these ups and downs can create explosive opportunities.
Mining companies, especially explorers, use these price swings to their advantage and often produce market-beating returns during an upswing.
The Proof: How Mining Equities React to Metal Prices
Not only do price increases translate into higher profits for mining companies, but they can also change the outlook and value of exploration companies. As a result, investing in exploration companies can be a great way to gain exposure to changing prices.
That said, these types of companies can generate greater equity returns over a shorter period of time when prices are high, but they can also turn dramatically negative when prices are low.
Below, we compare how producers and exploration companies with a NI-43-101 compliant resource perform during bull and bear markets for precious metals.
All figures are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.
|Mining Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance|
(Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)
|Bear Market Performance
(Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)
|Auryn Resources||Exploration||Gold, Copper||$181M||$330M||60%||-39%|
|Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd.||Production||Gold||$1,104M||$1,885M||68%||110%|
|Red Pine Exploration||Exploration||Gold||$13M||$22M||29%||-55%|
|Revival Gold Inc.||Exploration/ |
|Erdene Resource Development||Exploration/ |
|Endeavor Mining Corp.||Production||Gold||$2,622M||$5,874M||54%||-13%|
|Yamana Gold Inc||Production||Gold||$4,572M||$8,279M||87%||-22%|
During the bear market period, the price of gold declined by 2.66%, and despite engaging in exploration activity, most companies saw a slump in their share prices.
In particular, exploration companies, or juniors, took a heavier hit, with returns averaging -31.66%. But even during a bear market, a discovery can make all the difference—as was the case for producer Wesdome Gold Mines, generating a 109.95% return over 2018.
- Average returns for gold producers including Wesdome: 24.83%
- Average returns for gold producers excluding Wesdome: -17.65%
During the bull market period for gold, gold mining companies outperformed the price of gold, with juniors offering the highest equity returns averaging 153.43%. Gold producers outperformed the commodity market, the value of their equities increased 69.61%—less than half of that of exploration companies.
Silver: Bears vs Bulls
Similar to gold mining companies, performances of silver producers and explorers reflected the volatility in silver prices:
|Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance (Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)||Bear Market Performance (Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)|
|Pan American Silver||Production||Silver||$2,973M||$10,550M||125%||1%|
|Americas Gold and Silver||Production||Silver||$335M||$482M||10%||-56%|
|Dolly Varden Silver Corp.||Exploration||Silver||$28M||$74M||152%||-32%|
|Endeavour Silver||Production||Silver, Gold||$458M||$837M||72%||-10%|
During the bear market period for silver, its price decreased by 9.8%. Explorers and producers both saw a dip in their share prices, with the equity of silver producers decreasing by 21.63%.
However, the discovery of a high-quality silver deposit again made the difference for SilverCrest Metals, which generated a 116.85% return over the year.
- Average returns for silver exploration companies including SilverCrest: 8.32%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies excluding SilverCrest: -27.86%
On the other hand, during the bull market period, the price of silver increased by 34.33%. Silver exploration companies surpassed the performance of the price of silver.
- Average returns for silver producers: 69.04%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies: 95.36%
The potential to generate massive returns and losses is evident in both cases for gold and silver.
The Investment Potential of Exploration
Mining equities tend to outperform underlying commodity prices during bull markets, while underperforming during bear markets.
For mining exploration companies, these effects are even more pronounced—exploration companies are high-risk but can offer high-reward when it comes to commodity investing.
To reap the rewards of volatile returns, you have to know the risks and catch the market at the right time.
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