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Business trends

Asian companies rack up strongest post-Lehman profit gains

Led by China, region is home to 80% of businesses notching 10-fold increases

Tencent is among 225 Chinese companies logging more than 10-fold profit growth since the global financial crisis.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Corporations based in Asia have reported many of the sharpest increases in net profit since the 2008 global financial crisis, with technology companies, consumer goods manufacturers and drugmakers driving the growth.

The region is home to roughly 80% of 560 listed nonfinancial companies around the world whose net profit grew by at least a factor of 10 compared with before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, according to a Nikkei tabulation of six-month earnings data from QUICK-FactSet.

China had the most such companies, at 225, including internet services giant Tencent Holdings, followed by Japan's 126. Other Asian nations had a total of 91.

As the industrial structure changes and incomes rise in Asia, internet businesses providing unique value-added services and those offering consumer goods amid robust internal demand have strengthened their presence.

In China, rapid economic growth propped up corporate earnings. The country accounted for 15% of the world's nominal gross domestic product in 2017, rising from 4% in 2000, shows data from the International Monetary Fund.

Tencent's WeChat messaging app now boasts more than 1.1 billion monthly users, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones in China. The company posted a 44.5 billion yuan ($6.3 billion) net profit for the April-September period, partly from diversifying into such fields as payment services -- a 32-fold increase from 11 years earlier. Its market capitalization has reached about 3.2 trillion Hong Kong dollars ($409 billion), surpassing that of Toyota Motor.

U.S. company VMware, which develops cloud computing software, reported a $5.4 billion net profit for the most recent half -- a 40-fold increase.

Drugmakers are enjoying strong earnings as society ages. In particular, biopharmaceuticals have seen major innovation in the use of antibodies to fight cancer. Earnings growth was logged by China's Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, strong in cancer drugs and anesthetics, and American cancer drug developer Celgene.

Producers of consumer goods also fared well, including Chinese air conditioner company Gree Electric Appliances. Players outside China and Japan made strides in this sector, such as food conglomerate JG Summit Holdings of the Philippines and motorcycle builder Eicher Motors of India. These countries are increasingly seen as markets for such goods instead of just production bases.

Among Japanese companies, Pan Pacific International Holdings posted 12-fold profit growth. This owed partly to its Don Quijote chain of discount stores featuring chaotic "jungle" displays where items are crammed into small spaces and discounts are promoted with colorful signs.

Despite the high growth, risks remain in Asia. Debt is ballooning at Chinese companies, and there are also concerns of a Chinese real estate bubble.

"Companies that grow by relying on government policy will soon reach their limit," said Toshiyuki Murai of Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management, referring to the many private-sector businesses in China with strong ties to the government.

The study covered roughly 8,000 companies that logged net profits in the April-September, March-August or February-July periods of 2008.

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