How things change… A new BCG study released on April 25, 2014 throws away out-of-date perceptions on which countries have the lowest manufacturing costs. If China is still ranked #1 in terms of global competitiveness, its position is now under pressure with the United States a close second. The world is not divided anymore between “low cost” emerging countries and “expensive” advanced economies.
What does it mean for investors and decision makers? Where should your next production plant be located?
Manufacturing Cost Competitiveness (MCC)
BCG’s study tracked 25 major exporting countries, accounting for close to 90 percent of global exports of manufactured goods. Their MCC index is built on four pillars of manufacturing competitiveness: wages, productivity growth, energy costs and currency exchange rates. Adjustments were made to take into account other drivers influencing a nation’s competitive position, such as available infrastructure, security issues, ease of doing business, corruption level…
Ranking and evolution
Apart from China and the USA, the final Top Ten MCC ranking includes the U.K. (4), the Netherlands (6), Belgium (9) and France (10) but this “photo finish” doesn’t tell the full story. A clearer picture is offered when classifying the countries in four categories, reflecting the trend of their competitive position. Highlights:
Under Pressure: Rapidly deteriorating competitiveness affects Brazil, Russia, China, Poland, Czech Republic…
Losing Ground: High cost countries coping with rising energy costs, high wage costs and no productivity gains. Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden…
Holding Steady: Countries maintaining their position relative to the global leaders: Netherlands, U.K., India, Indonesia.
Rising Stars: Increased competitiveness with gains in all four index components: U.S.A., Mexico
Click here for the press release on the BCG study.
What are the implications for business leaders?
The first message is that decision makers need to keep track and adjust to dramatic and rapid changes. Old (as in ten-years-old) perceptions stand in the way of new realities. “Overall costs in the USA are 10 to 25 percent lower than those of the world’s ten leading goods-exporting nations other than China”, the report says, and on par with Eastern Europe.
Entrepreneurs do not move their production facilities based on the latest trend or hype. Such a move has huge implications, is very costly and requires an economic horizon of at least one, usually two decades. This is true for medium sized firms as much as for global corporations.
This is why managers and investors should base such a strategic decision on solid cost structure evidence and the analysis of long term trends. Just like when buying shares on the stock exchange, if you follow the mainstream opinion, your late move is likely to end up in painful losses.
Where should your production plant be located?
Whether looking at added capacity or transplanting production, the decision of where your new plant should be built is obviously the subject of a careful strategic analysis. You will make a first selection of countries where wages, energy costs, productivity and currency all point in the right direction, and where the other drivers (ease of doing business, infrastructure, stability, rule of law…) are consistently positive.
Each firm is however a unique case, only partially influenced by macroeconomics. After all, your first concern is with your market, your customers, your people and your identity. This is why you will also want to consider a broad range of company-specific criteria, such as:
- Competitive sourcing and efficient supply chain
- Location and dynamics (growth, innovation) of your main markets
- Availability of skilled labor and qualified specialists
- Ease of adjustment to the local culture
- Global market prestige and local market access
- Access to local funding.
Building a production plant in a distant, foreign country, is a major strategic decision, one that might ensure growth and profitability for decades to come, if done right. When deciding where to move, take a new look at today’s evidence and tomorrow’s evolution, not at yesterday’s performance.