Below are two charts generated on the US Census Bureau website showing the trend in exports and imports over the past decade. One interesting thing to note is that imports, shown in the first chart, have remained fairly steady at pre-recession levels over approximately the past two years. Exports, on the other hand, in the second chart, continued to trend upwards during that time and have moved above their pre-recession levels.
As can be seen from the chart below, the appreciation of the Yuan against the Dollar that has steadily occurred over the roughly three months from mid-January to the present has reversed the depreciation in the Yuan that took place over the nearly six months from mid-July to mid-January. This highlights why the recent movement in the exchange rate is seen to be unusually pronounced.
China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has announced that it will no longer be necessary for companies to receive NDRC approval for overseas investments of under $1 billion. The reform is expected to go into effect on May 8th and represents a large increase from the current threshold of $300 million for resource-related investments and $100 million for other investments. There is speculation that the reform will make it easier for Chinese companies to compete for overseas acquisitions in the international market.
Japan has made a deal with Australia to lower tariffs on beef imports, which could give Australian exporters of beef an advantage over U.S. exporters in the Japanese market. However, the agreement is not expected to go into effect until 2015, and the tariffs will be reduced over a period of 15-18 years.
South Korea's custom's agency will be simplifying the customs clearing process for imported goods bought online from foreign websites that are below a minimum value. For many countries the minimum will be $100, but for US websites, the minimum will be $200. This could make goods for sale on US websites more appealing to Korean consumers as they experience shorter wait times for goods to clear customs. This could ultimately help boost US exports to the country.
China's National Bureau of Statistics has reported that the manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers index) fell to 50.2 in February from 50.5 in January. Below is a graph of 2013 and year to date 2014 Manufacturing PMI.
WeChat, the messaging app made by Chinese company Tencent, has been getting an enormous amount of publicity in the western media lately. Tencent is the developer of QQ, an instant-messaging computer program that is widely used in China and has been for many years. It also has its own Twitter-like micro-blog service (referred to in Chinese as weibo, which means micro-blog), but it is far less popular than the weibo service offered by another Chinese company, Sina. The company also has a website for streaming music. Additionally, it is working on electronic payment technologies.
Tencent's WeChat app has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years within China, both as a form of communication used between friends and as a tool that business people use with their contacts. This explains the attention it is receiving in the media, but what exactly is WeChat? What does it look like? And, what does it do?
To answer these questions, this article will provide short explanations of the apps functions alongside screenshots of the app itself.
Below is the WeChat home screen for chatting with contacts. Contacts are listed alongside their profile picture. (In all the below screen shots, personal information and photos have been erased)
After a contact has been selected, users can send text messages, voice messages, pictures, and video files, or, open up a live chat or video chat. Users can also broadcast messages to multiple contacts. Dialogue is listed chronologically in bubbles next to the users’ profile picture. Messages are sent over the internet, and users can connect via wireless networks or by using data on a 4G or 3G network. Although users may have to pay for their data or wireless connections, downloading the WeChat app itself is free.
On this screen are the function’s categorized as ‘Social’. ‘Look Around’ allows users to find other people in their vicinity that are using WeChat and chat with them. ‘Moments’ allows users to post updates and information that all their contacts can see, which is a feature that bears similarities to functions on weibo, twitter, or Facebook.
Here is what the Moments screen looks like. Users can view posts made by their contacts in chronological order.
Many are wondering what WeChat’s success means for other forms of social media that may have to compete with it, whether or not WeChat can be successful outside of China, and how Tencent is monetizing the app. These are valid questions, but beyond the scope of this article. The question this article sought to answer has simply been: what is WeChat? Now that this has been explained, readers can more effectively consider the prospects for the company and digest the analysis of others writing about the company.
MIT Technology Review this week published a list of 50 Smartest Companies for 2014. The list is compiled by the editors of the MIT Technology Review, who, in the publication's own words, "didn't count patents or PhDs; instead, we asked whether a company had made strides in the past year that will define its field."
The top three companies are: the DNA sequencing firm Illumina, Tesla Motors, and Google, which are all from the US. The list does include a fair share of international companies though, including 5 from China.
They include, Tencent (number 11, messaging software company), Hanergy Holding Group (number 23, energy company), Baidu (number 28, internet search company), Xiaomi (number 30, smartphone maker), and Qihoo 360 Technology (number 32, antivirus company). Tencent, whose products include the WeChat messaging app for smartphones and the QQ instant messaging software, had previously been included on MIT Technology Review's 2013 list of 50 Disruptive Companies, which had a similar aim of identifying that had "done something over the past year that will strengthen its hold on a market, challenge the leaders of a market, or create a new market."