Asia's Impact on Wall Street

IF anyone doubts that global political events can have a direct impact on Wall Street, they need only look at United States relations with China and Japan. The repression in China and the political uncertainties in Japan are both influencing important segments of US financial markets, although in different - and somewhat subtle - ways.

Beijing's brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square is already forcing internal changes on the part of US textile, apparel, and retail industries, according to Elizabeth Armstrong, an analyst with Prescott, Ball & Turben Inc.

China, Ms. Armstrong notes, was the ``source of 16 percent of all textile products imported into the United States during 1988.'' Some 12.5 percent of that total, or 1.6 billion square yards of textile products, came directly from the mainland. But 42 percent of the textile imports into the US from Hong Kong also came indirectly from the mainland.

China, in other words, was the main supplier of textile products to the US last year, followed by Taiwan and South Korea (each with 10.8 percent of total imports), and Hong Kong (8.3 percent).

Political repression, however - and the possibility of further interruptions in the supply pipeline - are not the types of events that win plaudits from businessmen, including importers.

The upshot? Ms. Armstrong believes that importers are already looking for alternative overseas sources for textiles, apparels, and other consumer products.

``Many of the companies that are already in joint ventures in China will stay, because it would be prohibitive for them to remove elsewhere. But companies not yet fully established on the mainland, or that can find the financial means to shift elsewhere for sourcing, will probably do so,'' Armstrong says.

Armstrong does not see a ``rush for the exit'' on the part of US textile/apparel companies dealing with China. Rather, she says, the decision to look elsewhere for supplies ``will be an orderly retreat.'' She believes that, since ``exporting is a large contributor to China's income,'' Beijing will do all that it can to keep the flow of exports open.

Nonetheless, the search for new sourcing, she believes, is under way in corporate offices. US shoe importers, she says, will look to other Asian markets, such as Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. Apparel importers will look to the Middle East, she adds, including Egypt, with its large cotton sector.

Armstrong expects several large national retailers to be adversely affected by the shift of imports away from China. Chinese wage standards are lower than in other parts of the third world, and certainly, compared to much of Asia. That means that as goods are imported from higher-wage nations, there will be an upward pressure on prices at the retail level in the US. One result, of course, would be to narrow the range between the price of foreign-made and US-made products - a plus for US manufacturers.

Some companies could actually gain from looking beyond China for imports, she says. Among them: Garan and V.F. Corporation, both apparel companies, and Delta Woodside, Springs Industries, Dixie Yarns, and Guilford, all textile companies.

Garan, for example, manufactures its apparels in the US. Most of its additional costs, Armstrong says, ``would involve training employees.'' And V.F. Corporation, the world's largest publicly owned apparel company, Armstrong says, has extensive manufacturing capacity abroad to increase its production, if necessary.

Finally, a note on Japan: David Hale, an economist with Kemper Financial Services Inc. in Chicago, notes that Japanese economic circles have momentarily discounted the political uncertainties in that country, including the announcement of the resignation of Prime Minister Sosuke Uno.

Mr. Hale sees a languid Tokyo stock market for the immediate period ahead, with Japanese investors increasing their stake on Wall Street, which has been a climbing market. (The infusion of new Japanese capital here, of course, would presumably help to keep the current US market rally going. By late last week the Dow Jones industrial average pushed through the 2,600 range, now only about 122 points below the peak in 1987.) But later in the year, as Japan looks toward a new national election, there could be pressure on both the Japanese yen (currently in the 142 trading range) and the Tokyo market, Hale says.

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