Chin Well may gain if US firms up protectionist stance

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 27, 2017.


KUALA LUMPUR: If the new US president Donald Trump makes real his threat to take a more protectionist stance against China, carbon steel-fastener maker Chin Well Holdings Bhd expects to be one of the companies to benefit.

“We will not be affected by the US [protectionist] policy against China because we don’t sell anything to China. In fact, we stand to gain from it as the policy would hurt China, meaning that steel prices would rise, increasing our revenue,” said its executive director Tsai Chi Yun.

Tsai said this because China, she claims, engages in dumping activities which end up slashing steel prices in the industry as it floods the market with lesser quality products that are produced cheaply without having to comply with environmental regulations.

Such allegations caused Europe to restrict imports of Chinese fasteners in 2009 — which was a boon to steel players elsewhere. But the abrupt lifting of this anti-dumping policy last year means China-produced fasteners are competing for a piece of the European pie again.

Still, with the enforcement of a new environmental policy in China, low-quality manufacturers have to pull up their socks and upgrade their facilities, or close down. “Therefore, we believe low-quality manufacturers will be out of the market in a year or two, depending on how strong the Chinese government stands.

“There have been effects [on other steel-fastener players] from the lifting of the anti-dumping policy [in Europe], but it will get less and less as years pass because cost is increasing in China,” she said.

Meanwhile, the industrial fastener sector, especially in the automotive segment, which has been seeing a slowdown recently as global economic growth slows, is only expected to recover after 2018 when global economy picks up, she said.

Which is why Chin Well is looking at its new gabion, fences and chicken mesh downstream products to raise its top and bottom lines of its financial year ending June 30, 2017 (FY17).

The group currently derives its profit from fasteners (80%) and wire products (20%). Fasteners are parts such as nuts and bolts, screws, clip, rivets and pins that are used to connect components.

“We are also looking for new customers for our DIY (do-it-yourself) fasteners from the West to increase our profit and turnover,” said Tsai. The new wire products, parked under the wire products segment, together with the DIY fasteners under the fasteners umbrella, were introduced in 2006.

“We hope to expand the new market for these products further in Europe and North America because now is the time for it. People tend to engage in DIY home fixings when the economy is down to avoid labour cost. As such, we have seen volume rise up to 25% every year for the last few years.

“We are also looking to secure two or more customers in Europe. We are talking to a few now. In future, we hope to have one customer in each country in Europe. At present, we supply to the top five companies in Europe for the industrial fastener sector,” said Tsai over the telephone.

In Malaysia, the gabion and fence products, which contribute about 23% of its group revenue, depend on government projects such as highways and slope reinforcements while the property market is soft.

In its first quarter ended Sept 30, 2016 (1QFY17), net profit dropped nearly 29% to RM12.9 million from RM18.2 million in 1QFY16 while revenue shed 19% to RM113.3 million compared with RM140.6 million a year ago as the fastener segment’s revenue fell 19% to RM96.8 million mainly due to lower demand from overseas, particularly European countries.

As for the wire products segment, revenue was RM16.5 million, down 20.6%, also due to lower demand.

Although European demand for industrial fasteners dropped, it has several “loyal and long-term” customers in Europe that kept their orders up on a “mutual understanding” basis, said Tsai.

She added that the customers would reflect the market situation in the EU to them and in return, Chin Well would inform them on the supply situation in Asia in order to strike a win-win deal. “Our sales grow when customers’ [businesses] grow in Europe,” Tsai explained.

Chin Well’s customers are made up of 70% foreign companies while the rest are Malaysians.

Tsai said the group’s current order book will last until May, adding that its FY18 order book would grow if the global economy improves.

According to Global Industry Analysts Inc in February last year, the world market for industrial fasteners was expected to grow to US$83.8 billion by 2020, driven by an improvement in global economy, and reviving automotive and manufacturing sectors. forecasts the global industrial fastener market would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.05% between 2016 and 2020, with the Asia-Pacific being a major revenue driver, according to its October 2016 report.

“Low-cost manufacturing benefits due to the availability of inexpensive labour and cheap raw materials will result in the growth of major end-user industries such as automotive, aerospace and defence, shipbuilding, and railways which, in turn, will boost the growth of the market in this region,” said SandlerResearch.

Chin Well shares closed unchanged at RM1.74 last Friday with a market capitalisation of RM521.2 million.