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中国消费者信心下滑,给全球经济蒙上阴影

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2019年01月11日

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HONG KONG — For years, no matter what was happening elsewhere, global companies bet billions upon billions of dollars that China’s consumers would keep spending money.

香港——多年来,无论其它地方发生了什么,全世界的企业都在把成千上万亿美金押在中国消费者会继续花钱上。

Now, just when the world economy could use their financial firepower, they are holding back, worried about the country’s slowing growth, a trade war with the United States and rising amounts of personal debt.

如今,就在世界经济急需他们的财力支援时,他们却退缩了。他们担心中国增长放缓,担心和美国的贸易战,以及日益增加的个人债务。

Zhao Zheng, 26, is among the cost-conscious consumers.

26岁的赵正就属于价格敏感型消费者。

On Thursday, Mr. Zhao, a real estate agent, was browsing smartphones made by Xiaomi, a Chinese rival to Apple that prices its handsets at a fraction of what the American tech giant charges for 苹果s. He said the success in China of Xiaomi and Miniso, a chain of low-cost variety stores, suggested that Chinese consumers were looking to get more for their money.

周四,身为房产经纪人的赵正在网上浏览小米的智能手机,这是苹果的一个中国竞争对手,其手机售价仅为这个美国科技巨头给苹果定价的一小部分。他说小米和名创优品——一个平价连锁杂货店——在中国的成功表明,中国消费者注重的是实惠。

“The economy,” Mr. Zhao said, “is definitely very bad.”

“经济肯定很差很差,”赵说。

A significant pullback could have a big impact on a world looking for engines of growth, on companies that counted on China’s continuing expansion and on global investors who have long viewed Chinese consumers as a steady source of profits.

对于寻找增长引擎的世界,指望中国持续扩张的企业,以及长期以来视中国的消费者为稳定利润来源的全球投资者而言,一次大幅回调会带来巨大影响。

Stock markets stumbled again on Thursday, in part over concerns that American companies and manufacturers are starting to feel the effects from the slowdown in China and the trade war. The S&P 500 sank 2.5 percent, while shares of Apple dropped nearly 10 percent after the company unexpectedly slashed its financial forecast, citing disappointing 苹果s sales in the country.

周四,股市再度震荡,部分是由于担心美国的企业和制造商开始感受到中国经济下滑以及贸易战的影响。标准普尔500指数下滑2.5%,而在苹果以苹果在中国销售不景气为由,意外下调了财务预期之后,企业股价下跌了近10%。

The rise of the Chinese consumer is not over yet, and Apple’s disappointing numbers stem in part from the company’s own decisions. But the weakness at Apple followed reams of other data — declining car sales, faltering retail sales, a slumping property market, a tougher job market — that signal Chinese consumers may be losing their once unshakable confidence.

中国消费者的崛起还没结束,苹果不景气的数字部分也是源于该企业自身的决定。但苹果的疲弱表现还伴随着大量其他数据——汽车销量下降、零售业步履蹒跚、房产市场暴跌、就业市场也更困难了。这表明中国的消费者可能正在失去他们曾经不可撼动的信心。

The sagging confidence could undermine China’s efforts to redirect its economy and spur growth.

信心低迷可能会颠覆中国重新调整经济和刺激增长的努力。

The Chinese government hopes consumers will become a greater source of economic growth as the country’s longtime reliance on government-sponsored infrastructure projects and old-line industries like steel and cement pays ever-smaller dividends. In recent years, Beijing has rolled out a huge social safety net, tax breaks and other incentives to get people to spend more of their own money on the trappings of middle-class life.

随着中国长期依赖的政府资助基建项目和钢铁水泥等老行业红利越来越少,中国政府希翼消费者可以成为更大的经济增长来源。近几年来,中国推出了一张巨大的社会保障网、税收减免及其它激励措施,促使人们将自己的钱更多地用那些中产生活装饰物上。

The spending slowdown in China could be a worrying sign for many of America’s biggest companies, too, at a time when their profits and stock prices are under pressure.

对许多美国最大的企业而言,中国消费支出的放缓也可能会是个令人担忧的迹象,眼下它们的利润和股价正承受着压力。

Greater China — a region that includes mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — is Apple’s third-largest market after the United States and Europe, accounting for $52 billion in annual sales in the company’s most recent fiscal year. General Motors, through local joint ventures, sells more cars in China than it does in the United States. Eight percent of Procter & Gamble’s total sales in 2017 came from Greater China.

大中华区——包括中国大陆、香港和台湾在内的地区——是苹果的第三大市场,仅次于美国和欧洲,最近一个财年给该企业带来了520亿美金的年销售额。通用汽车通过当地合资企业在中国售出了比美国更多的汽车。强生企业2017年销售额的8%来自大中华区。

Other companies are also feeling the pinch. China’s auto market, the biggest in the world, saw sales fall during the first 11 months of last year. Sales of all smartphones fell by 13 percent in the third quarter of 2018.

其他企业也日益感受到压力。作为世界第一大的中国汽车市场,去年前11个月销售下滑。2018年第三季度,各类智能手机的销量下降了13%。

Chinese consumers continued to spend relatively briskly during other recent slowdowns, and they could still help get the country’s economy back on track. But they have reasons to be reticent now.

在近年的其他经济减速中,中国的消费者持续保持了相对活跃的支出,而且能继续帮助该国的经济回到正轨。但如今他们有理由谨慎对待。

By many measures, the country’s growth has slowed because of government efforts to wean the economy off a heavy reliance on borrowing as well as other policies that have shaken the confidence of the country’s entrepreneurs.

从很多方面来看,中国的增长已放缓,原因在于政府努力使经济脱离严重依赖借贷的模式,以及其它已经撼动了该国企业家信心的政策。

“China is at a turning point in its economy,” said Andrew Collier, the founder of research firm Orient Capital Research. “They’ve basically been on a debt-fueled binge for a decade.” He added, “It’s difficult to turn the ship from industry to consumer at a time of rough waters.”

“中国的经济正处在转折点上,”东方资本研究企业(Orient Capital Research)创始人安德鲁?科利尔(Andrew Collier)说。“他们基本上在债务带动的热潮中停留了十年。”他补充说,“在这样一个凶险的时期,很难将船从工业调至消费者身上。”

For many people, circumstances have changed.

但对于很多人而言,情况已经转变。

China has too many apartments that home buyers do not want, depressing a property market that is the largest source of wealth for Chinese households. The stock market lost around a quarter of its value in 2018.

中国有太多家庭购房者不想要的公寓,从而抑制了中国家庭财产的最大来源——房地产市场。2018年,股市市值缩水约四分之一。

And although they have a long way to go to catch up to Americans, Chinese households are laboring under growing amounts of debt. Unorthodox Chinese lenders like the online shadow-banking networks known as peer-to-peer lenders are stumbling, giving consumers fewer places to borrow more.

尽管要赶上美国人还有很长的路要走,但中国家庭正承受着越来越多的债务。中国那些非正统的借贷方步履维艰,比如被称为p2p贷款的网上影子银行网络,因此消费者能借到更多钱的地方越来越少。

Declining business confidence, rising labor costs and the trade war with the United States also appear to be hurting the job market.

企业信心下降、劳动力成本上升以及同美国的贸易战似乎也在损害就业市场。

China does not disclose reliable unemployment data. But a recent survey by Mr. Collier of job postings, recruitment ads, numbers of applicants on recruitment websites and interviews with corporate managers suggested labor demand had weakened significantly. Hiring demand in import and export industries has been hit especially hard, falling 53 percent in the third quarter compared with a year earlier, the survey found.

中国没有公布可靠的失业数据。但科利尔最近对招聘帖子、招工广告、招聘网站上的求职者数量,以及对企业管理者的采访所进行的一项调查显示,劳动力需求已经明显减弱。该调查发现,进出口行业的招聘需求受到的打击尤其严重,第三季度与去年同期相比下降53%。

Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that many consumers are looking for ways to spend less.

在这样的背景下,许多消费者设法减少支出也就不足为奇了。

Wang Xiaochuan, who made about $145,000 a year as a pharmaceutical sales representative in Yantai in 2015, now makes less than a third of that thanks to a tightening of regulations on the drug industry. He has cut back his spending, buying Clarks shoes instead of the more expensive Ecco brand, or Coach goods rather than Louis Vuitton.

王小川在烟台担任医药销售代表,2015年,他的年收入约为14.5万美金。如今,由于对医药行业的监管收紧,他的年收入不到这个数字的三分之一。他削减了开支,购买其乐(Clarks)的鞋子,而不是更昂贵的爱步(Ecco);用蔻驰(Coach)的商品取代了路易威登(Louis Vuitton)。

“I’m hearing a lot more bad news about the economy than good news now,” he said.

“宏观经济听到的负面消息大于正面消息,”他说。

In a country with an aspirational culture that for decades has encouraged people to get rich, Apple has long held a special place. Having a new 苹果 meant its owner had made it. Seven years ago, the release of a new 苹果 set off scuffles in front of an Apple store in Beijing.

几十年来这个国家一直盛行着鼓励人们致富的学问,苹果品牌因此长期占据着特殊的地位。拥有一部新苹果意味着主人的成功。七年前,新款苹果的发布在北京一家苹果店门前引发了混战。

But price increases have put the 苹果 beyond the reach of more and more Chinese buyers. An 苹果 XR starts at 6,499 yuan, or about $950, just over two and a half months’ worth of disposable income for the average Chinese person.

但价格上涨已经让越来越多的中国买家无法购买苹果。苹果 XR起售价为人民币6499元(约合950美金),略高于普通中国人两个半月的可支配收入。

Rumors once circulated about young people selling kidneys to buy an 苹果. Now, the online joke goes, it would cost two kidneys.

曾经有传言说年轻人用卖肾的钱买苹果。现在,网上有个笑话说,买苹果需要两个肾。

On the last day of 2018, William Tan, a 30-year-old university teacher in the southern city of Nanning, replaced his 苹果 7 with a phone made by Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. Although the Huawei phone cost more than $700, about a month’s salary for him, it was still more than $200 cheaper than the base 苹果 XR. He had used an 苹果 5, 6 and 7. But when his 苹果 7 broke down, he found he could no longer afford the latest 苹果.

2018年的最后一天,在南方城市南宁,30岁的大学教师威廉·谭(William Tan)用中国电信巨头HUAWEI的一款手机取代了自己的苹果 7。尽管这部HUAWEI手机售价超过700美金,约合他一个月的薪水,但是仍然比基本款的苹果 XR便宜200多美金。他使用过苹果 5、6和7。但当他的苹果 7坏掉时,他发现自己再也买不起最新款的苹果了。

The Huawei phone, he said, works fairly smoothly and takes better photos than the 苹果.

他说,HUAWEI手机运行起来相当流畅,拍照效果也比苹果好。

“I won’t choose Apple again at this price range,” he said.

“目前这种定价不会再选苹果了,”他说。

Chinese consumers are by no means done with certain discretionary purchases. Spending on movie tickets and services remains strong, economists said.

当然,中国消费者没有放弃某些可自由支配的开支。经济学家说,影片票和服务领域的支出依然强劲。

But the consumer slowdown could worsen if Beijing does not address its economic problems.

但如果北京不解决经济问题,消费放缓可能会加剧。

“The question is whether China can stabilize economic growth when it is facing economic headwinds,” said Wei Li, senior China economist at Standard Chartered.

“问题是,在经济逆风中,中国能否稳定经济增长,”渣打银行(Standard Chartered)资深中国经济学家李炜表示。

“If the labor market does worsen in 2019 or if financial conditions don’t improve, if the stock market remains low, all this could weigh on consumer confidence,” Mr. Li said.

“如果劳动力市场真的在2019年出现恶化,或者金融状况没有改善,又或者股市依然低迷,所有这些都可能会打击消费者的信心,”李炜说。

Given the uncertainty, many Chinese spenders will most likely continue to scrimp.

鉴于这种不确定性,许多中国消费者很可能会继续省吃俭用。

Wu Yan, a tech company worker who was looking at Xiaomi phones on Thursday afternoon, said he had also tried Apple and Huawei phones and had decided they were not much different from one another. What matters, he said, was the apps, and they work the same from phone to phone.

周四下午,科技企业员工午言正在选购小米手机,他说,他也试过苹果和HUAWEI的手机,觉得它们没有太大区别。他说,重要的是手机应用程序,它们在不同的手机上工作起来都是一样的。

But Mr. Wu, 40, also said many middle-class Chinese people like him had reached a stage where their work was stable, their income was secure and they no longer needed to show off their spending power. His computer at home? It’s four or five years old now, but it still works fine.

但40岁的午言也说,许多像他一样的中国中产阶级已经到了工作稳定、收入稳定、不再需要炫耀自己消费能力的阶段。至于他家里的电脑?已经用了四五年了,但是仍然很好用。

“Now we spend just to fulfill our needs,” he said.

“现在大家花钱主要是为了满足自己的需要,”他说。


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