News

Hainan mulls tax on vacant homes

Date Feb 13 2012 15:11:53 Source:SHMET
Feb.13,2012(SHMET)--

HAIKOU - Political advisers in South China's Hainan province urged authorities to levy taxes on vacant homes in popular travel destinations to discourage speculation and cool the island's overheated property market. 

The vacancy rate among residential buildings in Hainan has become alarmingly high because many non-residents have flooded the property market to buy winter vacation homes and investment properties, said Wang Yiwu, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Hainan Committee, on Saturday during the committee's ongoing annual plenary meeting. 

"About 80 percent of the new residential buildings in cities such as Haikou and Sanya are vacant, according to my research on the property market in Haikou and Sanya," said Wang, who is also an economics professor from Hainan University. 

Liu Huizhen, who works for a property maintenance company in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, said about 450 out of 500 apartments in the neighborhood she works for are owned by people who are not from the island, and about 200 homes are often vacant. 

The market for winter homes has become very lucrative, said Dai Hong, another member who attended the committee's annual meeting, which concluded on Sunday. 

"Many developers are keen on building high-end property projects in Hainan that target these well-off outsiders," Dai said. 

The price increase resulting from the property boom hurts the local population, Dai said. 

"When locals cannot afford them and non-locals can afford them but often do not live there, then a high vacancy rate is inevitable," Dai said. 

Liu Shengnan, a property salesperson in Sanya, a popular tourism destination in the province, said on Saturday that nearly all of the buyers for her company's commercial residential buildings near Haitang Bay are not permanent residents. 

Her company's project contains 358 apartments sized from 80 square meters to 220 square meters, and the average price is 30,000 yuan ($4,770) per square meter, she said, declining to reveal the exact number of apartments that have been sold. 

According to the latest report released by the China Index Academy, a Beijing-based real estate consultancy, the average home price was estimated at 8,326 yuan per square meter in Haikou in January. 

"It's impossible for me to afford a two-bedroom apartment with a monthly income of 1,000 yuan," said Liu Huizhen, the property management agent, who is a 24-year-old Haikou native and plans to get married late this year. 

Professor Wang said that the rising purchasing power of mainlanders has accelerated the rise of housing prices in Hainan. 

"Because our local residents' incomes have not increased so rapidly, this trend will hurt the quality of life and rights of local people if it is not effectively curbed," he said. 

He said the high vacancy rate has also led to a waste of land resources and public services. 

Liu said that the issue has also complicated her company's day-to-day work and even led to losses. 

"It is really difficult for us to handle the situation when water leakage, electricity leakage and burglaries occur in those apartments. What's worse, our company has to prepay the fees that the government requires, such as fees for garbage disposal. The money cannot be returned if no one lives in those homes," she said. 

Wang suggested that the local government should tax homes with high vacancy rates to crack down on property speculation. It should also simultaneously encourage the construction of more public rental apartments to accommodate low- and middle-income residents. 

Dai suggested that the government should tax a residential home if it remains vacant for two years or longer, and the tax on a vacant home shall be assessed annually at the rate of 1 percent of the standard value of the building and increase year by year. 

In a work report that he delivered to the annual plenary session of the provincial people's congress on Thursday, Jiang Dingzhi, acting governor of Hainan province, pledged to build 75,500 government-subsidized homes in 2012. 

Mini SLRs set to snap up the photo market

Date Feb 13 2012 15:01:19 Source:SHMET
Feb.13,2012(SHMET)--

SHANGHAI / BEIJING - Digital single-lens reflex cameras may be the most powerful gadget for taking photos but are far from the simplest to use. And the simplest pocket ones? They are usually not so powerful.

Mini SLRs set to snap up the photo market

An enthusiast tests a mini digital single-lens reflex camera at a photographic equipment exhibition in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Mini SLR cameras have become a new and more cost-efficient choice for customers in the domestic market.[Photo/China Daily]

The dichotomy had long obsessed Qian Jingjing, a photography enthusiast, until camera manufacturers began releasing products that fall between the two - the mini SLR.

Qian likes to go hiking over the weekend and takes pictures along the way, but compact digital cameras simply don't shoot pictures in the way she desires. They are either slow or the color rendition was poor. However, a big SLR was too bulky.

"It's like you are forever stuck with two camera categories: digital ones that take mediocre pictures and heavy black ones that take stunning photos but require a neck strap. But a mini SLR is like a white knight riding to the rescue," Qian said.

Qian bought her first mini SLR, an Olympus E-PL1, in 2010 upon its debut. She said the light weight and good picture quality encapsulated all her needs.

China's digital camera market enjoys thriving growth. Statistics from data provider Euromonitor showed the market size doubled to 20.6 billion yuan ($3.27 billion) in 2010 from five years ago. But there is no further breakdown for mini SLRs, indicating it is a fledgling sector.

As both ends of the product spectrum are already teeming with models, manufacturers are eager to differentiate their products in the hope of gaining a foothold in the new market.

Panasonic Corp, a forerunner in the mini SLR field, unveiled its first such product - the Panasonic G1 - in 2008, in a bid to carve out a potentially lucrative niche for itself in a market crying out for innovation.

With the rise of high-end smartphones, ordinary DCs are losing momentum while SLRs are mostly for professionals, creating an "enormous market opportunity in between", the company said in an e-mail to China Daily. Panasonic now has a product line of 10 mini SLRs.

Sony Corp, also a leading producer of electronics products, released its first mini SLR - the NEX-5C - in June 2010.

The mini SLR was intended to act like a compact DC while offering the quality and versatility of a digital SLR, in an attempt to "convert the millions of pocket camera buyers who are put off SLRs by their bulk, complexity and lack of user-friendliness", Hatano Satoshi, vice-president of the digital department of Sony China, wrote in an e-mailed reply to questions from China Daily.

Other major camera makers also joined the mini SLR fray. Olympus Corp's PEN series hit the market gaining an unprecedentedly strong response, and Nikon Corp, a heavyweight player in the camera industry, unveiled Nikon 1 last year, sending a strong signal that fierce competition is kicking off.

A mini SLR uses a much bigger image sensor that is good enough to act like the mirror in its bigger cousins. It is compatible with various types of lenses, said Ai Lun, a seasoned photographer who lectures in several universities in Beijing.

"Physics explains why you can't take professional-quality pictures with a small camera. Big, bright photos require big sensors and big lenses to shine on the chips," Ai said.

According to Ai, the mechanics of an SLR camera involve light hitting a mirror and then passing through a focusing screen and into a block of glass called a pentaprism. When someone takes a photo, the mirror flips up and a shutter opens that exposes the digital sensor to the light.

Mini SLRs use an image sensor, a device that converts an optical image into an electronic signal, thus replacing the mirror and the pentaprism, effectively reducing its size. The chips in mini SLRs are on average 15 times bigger than those in portable DCs, ensuring a high resolution picture with less noise.

The interchangeable lenses allow users to have a lens for each and every occasion.

The mini SLR has become a cost-efficient choice. Research by 360buy.com, a major home appliances online marketplace, shows that prices normally range from 3,500 to 7,000 yuan, which is acceptable to those who crave a device that produces output of a similar quality to that of an SLR, but find themselves financially stretched. It can cost up to 20,000 yuan to buy an SLR, without a fancy lens.

"With all their advantages, mini SLRs will eclipse their counterparts very soon and hold a dominant position in two years," Ai said.

Report by SHMET

Domestic auto sector makes big impact

Date Feb 13 2012 14:57:30 Source:SHMET
Feb.13,2012(SHMET)--

BEIJING - Brilliant sales in the car market of China last year helped General Motors, Volkswagen and the Renault-Nissan Alliance outperform Toyota to become the top three global carmakers. 

Domestic auto sector makes big impact

 

China has transformed into the single biggest market worldwide for the three auto leaders and is expected to play a decisive role in the years ahead. 

US carmaker GM regained its crown as the No 1 automaker after selling over 9 million vehicles last year. Industry observers concede that China sales had contributed significantly to its rising status. 

With two joint ventures in China, GM sold approximately 2.55 million vehicles in the country last year, which accounts for more than a fourth of its global tally. About half of the vehicles sold were minivans, a small and cheap vehicle practical for carrying cargo and people and popular in rural regions. 

Volkswagen of Germany did benefit from explosive domestic sales as well. Chinese consumers accounted for more than a quarter of its 8.16 million vehicles delivered last year. 

The automaker announced last year it would invest 1.4 billion euros ($1.86 billion) into joint ventures in China from 2012 to 2016 to lift production capacity and develop new models. Combined annual capacity at its joint venture plants are expected to surpass 3 million vehicles in the next few years. 

The Renault-Nissan alliance reported combined sales of over 8 million last year and about 1.27 million cars were sold to the Chinese. It maintains domestic production of Nissan cars and in talks with a local partner, Dongfeng Motor Corp, to restart manufacturing Renault vehicles in the near future. 

Toyota sold just 880,000 vehicles in China, the least amount compared with the previous three companies. Its global sales totaled 7.95 million last year causing it to drop to the fourth position for global sales. Toyota had been the No 1 in the world for three consecutive years before. 

The Chinese-language media reported that Toyota plans to move its China business department to the country from Japan so all decisions could be made by local operations with a quicker response. 

Toyota plans to boost its sales in China to over 1 million units this year. 

The fifth-largest automaker, Hyundai-Kia of South Korea, enjoyed strong sales here with more than 1 million vehicles sold last year. Meanwhile, it sold nearly 6.6 million vehicles worldwide. 

Vehicles sales last year in China totaled 18 million units, which maintains its position as the largest market in the world for three consecutive years. 

The nation has become a new center of gravity and annual light vehicle sales could well exceed 30 million by 2018, about twice the market size of the US, according to market research firm JD Power and Associates and LMC Automotive. 

Report by SHMET

Online stores gear up for lovers' day

Date Feb 13 2012 14:56:06 Source:SHMET
Feb.13,2012(SHMET)--

SHANGHAI - If we need another sign that the Valentine's Day has become over-commercialized in China, e-commerce sites have now joined in the annual frenzy.

Online stores gear up for lovers' day

 

Data from an e-commerce portal shows that searches for the word "chocolate" on its website numbered 1.48 million, a 268 percent month-on-month rise. As part of an attempt to promote brands, some e-shops encourage users to share their love stories and photos in online forums and social networking sites. [Photo/China Daily]

Zhong Junwei, a self-employed online retailer in Shenzhen, never expected to be so busy just two weeks after the Spring Festival, the country's most celebrated holiday.

But with the Valentine's Day around the corner, he soon realized it was a great opportunity to cash in.

Zhong registered his company website, OnlyLove Gift Co Ltd, in Hong Kong five years ago. With the right business acumen, he sensed that the then-fledgling e-commerce was a perfect match for the gift-giving tradition in the Chinese culture.

"We design, manufacture and sell holiday gifts online. Valentine's Day is the one occasion we value most," Zhong told China Daily.

His product line for this Feb 14 stretched from glass trophy cups with sculpted characters that read "Best Boyfriend Award", personalized cushions with a spouse's picture depicted on top and jewelry tailor-made to customers' needs.

Revenue generated on Valentine's Day is on average three times higher than on a normal day. Zhong expects sales to be double those of last year, hitting 2 million yuan ($317,460), a decent gain for a company of 500,000 yuan registered capital.

"The exchange of gifts is important during courtship. It is based in part on establishing one's credentials as a romantic and generous soul," he said.

Zhong's story resembles that of many bigger online markets, where cashing in on romance has started to thrive.

According to data from e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, searches for the word "chocolate" on its Taobao marketplace numbered 1.48 million, a 268 percent month-on-month rise. Nearly 100,000 people ordered 790,409 pieces of chocolate through taobao.com.

Juhuasuan.com, the group-buying arm of Alibaba, introduced localized services such as discounted movie tickets, restaurant reservations and wedding photo coupons in 43 cities one week ahead of the holiday.

Rovio Entertainment Ltd, the maker of the popular game Angry Birds, unveiled its Valentine's Day special offers on its Tmall website, Alibaba's business-to-customer branch.

In an e-mail reply to China Daily, the company said Angry Birds-themed cookies are targeted at the upcoming festival. If bought with a couple of T-shirts, there is a 50 percent discount.

Likewise, yihaodian.com, a Chinese online supermarket in which the US retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc took a stake, also joined the fray. Its group-buying services tried to strike decent bargains for users. A bunch of 11 teddy bears wrapped in a bouquet sells for just 89 yuan. In main street stores the price can be 300 yuan or more.

Yihaodian also enticed customers by offering deeply discounted candies and chocolate bars and "buy one get one free" discounts on about 50 items. For instance, it offered 15 yuan of Ferrero Rocher chocolates for 7.2 yuan. Healthcare food and massage items are also on the promotion list.

These discounts are intended to serve courting couples but also long-married couples when love has outgrown gift-giving rituals and both want something more substantial, said Zou Pin'e, the public relations manager at the company.

Festival marketing has gained a foothold on the e-commerce landscape, according to Wang Yong, vice-president of kela.cn, a shopping portal that sells jewelry.

The company's marketing slogan was that no price was too high for an engagement ring. It presented six rings with heart-shaped diamonds for the special occasion and more than 20 pendants and pearl ornaments at a 20 to 50 percent discount.

As part of its brand promotion, kela.cn encouraged its users to share their love stories and photos in online forums and social networking sites. Couples who join in are entered in a lucky draw with a top prize of a holiday in the Maldives.

"Holiday marketing has encapsulated all the assets of e-commerce businesses, ranging from price, logistics to quality. It is the versatility of products and after-sales services that help us to prosper," Wang said.

Report by SHMET

Fears prevail that green policies could be ignored

Date Feb 13 2012 14:54:35 Source:SHMET
Feb.13,2012(SHMET)--

BEIJING - Government-owned cars would likely be subjected to a central government-proposed traffic volume control regulation that aims for more energy savings and emissions reductions. 

Fears prevail that green policies could be ignored

A parking lot for cars of a government department in Beijing. [Photo/China Daily]

According to guidelines drafted by 17 central government departments including the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance, cars owned by government institutions should not be used at least for one day during the five-day workweek. 

The absent days would be assigned according to the last number of the license plates. 

The practice is similar to a Beijing policy. 

For example, at present, cars carrying license plates with the last numbers of 4 and 9 are restricted on Mondays, and with 0 and 5 on Tuesdays. 

The proposal also called for staff to drive one day less every month, ride a bike when their travel distance is within 1 km and take public transportation within 5 km. 

It asks government organizations to renew vehicle purchase plans with changed vehicle purchase standards. Buying medium and small-displacement cars as well as new-energy vehicles has been encouraged when making purchasing budget. 

The trial on government-owned vehicle restrictions has been carried out in Jiangsu province since October 2008. 

Media reports said, "no one has been heard to be punished due to breach of the restrictions." Other reports quoted interviewers saying that, "it worked well at the beginning, but was gradually neglected later." 

According to the Government Offices Administration of the State Council, which has been engaged in drafting the proposal, the restriction will not be compulsory. 

Wang Zechu, a Guangdong provincial official, applauded the proposal and said there is no need to make compulsory documents or punishments over its implementation. "Whether it can be carried out or not depends on government departments and officials themselves," he said. 

But Li Gongming, a renowned scholar in Guangdong, said the proposal is only logically feasible. He said the most important is that government bodies should make their vehicle purchase budgets transparent. 

Han Zhipeng, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from Guangdong, said lack of supervision and implementation measures would be the fatal flaw of the plan. 

"The key is whether related governments have the resolution to implement it," he said. 

Ordinary people have expressed concerns on BBS and microblogs (Weibo). 

"I'm wondering if some regional governments will buy even more vehicles. I wonder if some organizations will purchase several license plates for one car to avoid the restriction," a netizen commented on Weibo. 

"It is just a show," another Weibo user named "Jiangweishengbu" said. "It might be our luck to see that a government-owned vehicle only run 5,000 km every month on roads," he mocked. 

The Nandu Daily newspaper in Guangzhou, which is known for insightful comments, said, "When it comes to issues relating to energy conservation and emissions reductions, why are the rules so strict on ordinary people, but very loose on officials?" 

The article added, "no doubt, only when the government and its staff sacrifice some privileges and give up some personal gains for a greener environment, can public awareness on energy savings and emissions reductions really occur. 

Otherwise, no matter how many documents and plans are released, or how definite and loud the slogans sound, it makes no sense to the public good." 

Report by SHMET