China’s Thirst for Oil (and Cancer treatments)

More on Oil and China, this time from an interesting NYT’s article from last week:

One of the reason’s China’s Oil demand remains so high is price controls and subsidies. But there’s only so long that can go before market forces re-assert themselves. Keep pries articifically low, and (surprise!) you get shortages:

"Service stations across China are starting to
run short on diesel this spring, while electricity blackouts here in
southeastern China are growing worse as power stations cut back on purchases of
fuel oil.

For truckers and factory owners, the diesel and electricity shortages are a
nuisance, sometimes a costly one. The Guangzhou Boaosi Appliance Company, which
makes refrigerators here, is without electricity from the municipal grid four
days a week, and just bought a costly generator last month to continue operating
on diesel.

The diesel and power shortages have one thing in common: they are largely the
result of the clash between China’s Communist past and its increasingly
capitalist present. The government has set retail prices too low for diesel and
electricity. So businesses, facing high world oil prices, are supplying less of

Disruptions in Chinese markets for fuel oil, diesel and other oil products
are causing ripples in global markets in turn, as traders and investors around
the world struggle to interpret the effects on international oil supply and

. . . Sinopec service station had signs on all its
diesel pumps saying they were sold out of fuel, though the gasoline pumps were
still flowing. A couple of trucks loitered nearby. In contrast, lines of trucks
waiting for diesel have been reported at scattered service stations elsewhere in
China over the last few days.

The Chinese government raised the regulated retail price of gasoline by 7
percent on March 23, to $1.66 a gallon. But it left diesel unchanged at $1.57 a
gallon to avoid antagonizing farmers, who need a lot of diesel in their tractors
for spring planting."


Chinese Energy Subsidies

China_oil_1How Chinese households, factory owners, farms, small businesses and
refinery managers will respond when Central Communist Planners eventually allow prices to trade freely is anyone’s guess.

But its only a few months away — "Government officials have already
announced that they will raise retail electricity prices for industrial users,
although probably not homes, on May 1. An increase in diesel prices is also
widely expected.

That’s a very significant development — much more improtant than the worthless plaititudes we hear from Saudi Oil Minsters, who every month, announce increased production targets and every month, fail to increase production.

I disagree with this assessment — all central planning has done is
manage to forestall the pain, or rotate it to someone else who is not
directly benefittingfrom the subsidy:

"But blackouts have been a serious problem for years here in Guangzhou, the
biggest city in the Pearl River Delta, and they are worse this spring as
oil-fired plants have shut down, though coal-fired power plants have kept

Diesel generators have become a necessity for factories across much of China
in the last few years, as electricity demand has soared past supply, and they
have helped turn China into the world’s second-largest oil importer, after the
United States. Factories receive priority in diesel shipments, and 19
representatives of companies from across China said in separate interviews at
the trade fair here that they had not had trouble buying enough diesel to refill
their fuel tanks periodically.

China’s growth has been so full bore now that one has to wonder what seeds they are planting for problems in the future. The Times notes that central planning has questionable advantages for China:

"Sweeping aside environmental, land use and financial hurdles that can
delay power stations in the West for years, China has embarked on a binge of
construction of new power plants, many of them coal-fired . . . Yet the generators are costly in many ways. The diesel alone costs two to three times as much per kilowatt generated as electricity from power plants, managers complain, and on top of that are labor costs for maintenance and operation as well as the cost of the generator and the cost of space to put the generator and its fuel tank.

The generators, particularly older, domestically manufactured models, also rank among the biggest polluters in a country with some of the worst air pollution."

Interesting issues. Between all the cigarette smoking in China, and the huge air pollution issues they are developing, we should expect a bountiful Asian market for cancer treatments in the future.

No, that was not sarcasm. I am dead serious about this. Its not just the retiring baby boomers that makes health care so intriguing an investment arena. As long as US companies can protect their patents — or make drugs so complex to manufacture that they cannot be readily copied — than Genetech, Amgen, Pfizer, Imclone and many others will have a huge market to sell into over the next few decades.   

You read it here first.


The Great Engine of China Is Low on Fuel
NYT, April 19, 2005

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  1. Finance Marketer commented on Apr 29

    That’s actually a pretty interesting assessent of Chinese growth and processes – we have a country desperately trying to keep control of market forces that simply refuse to remain controlled.

    IMO it’s not so much the market forces themselves at work in China’s rampant industrialisation that are the focus to watch, as much as it’s currency and exchanges.

    The country is being pushed on greater foriegn ownership, revaluation of the renminibi, as well as the possible merger of the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. More on those here:

    Overall, these issues will leave the Chinese truly at the mercy of market forces in a way that should really cause concern – not least because you are quite right that despite the hold of central planning, the decisions made now are going to have a really serious effect on the future – and in this future, the state will have little remedy to overturn some of the potentially more hasty decisions made during it’s rapid industrialisation.

  2. Matthew Kennel commented on May 26

    There is no drug which is sufficiently ‘complex’ to be uncopyable.

    Chinese are getting very good even at high-end bioreactor chemistry and can already mass produce their own antibodies.

    All the expense is in clinical trials and evaluating what works. Western pharmaceutical companies do that and very quickly the cloners will be on it.

    I bet no US biotech or pharmaceutical company will ever make any profit in China ever.

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