NEW ENERGY: Tesla EV Plan Lands in Shanghai — Again

Bottom line: Tesla is likely to announce a new $9 billion electric car joint venture in Shanghai within the next two months, which could begin production as the industry starts to gain traction in the next 1-2 years.

Tesla on cusp of electric car JV

Almost a year to the day after media reported an imminent deal that would see electric car maker Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) set up a plant in Shanghai, new reports are emerging saying the long delayed deal will finally be announced. Anyone sensing a bit of “boy who cried wolf” with the latest reports is probably justified in feeling slightly skeptical. But I would quickly add this time perhaps we could finally see an announcement. It may not be as imminent as the reports are indicating, but perhaps within the next month or two.

Anyhow who feels compelled can go back and look at the reports a year ago, at which time I also predicted an announcement could be coming in the next month or two. (previous post) I tend to probably believe such reports a bit too much, mostly because China is a famously leaky place for such news. But that leakiness means that talks for deals often get out when they’re still in the relatively early stages, whereas in the west most such leaks don’t occur until the deal is nearly done. Read Full Post…

CONSUMER: Hon Hai, Hisense in Battle for Sharp Brand

Bottom line: A spat between Hisense and Sharp over the former’s use of the latter’s brand name spotlights the dangers of relying on such licensing agreements for Chinese companies going abroad.

Sharp sues Hisense over brand agreement

An entertaining battle is rippling through the headlines as we head into mid-week, pitting Taiwanese contract manufacturing titan Hon Hai (Taipei: 2317) against Chinese TV maker Hisense (Shanghai: 600060) in a battle for the Sharp (Tokyo: 6753) brand name. This is essentially the story of two giants with very little name recognition battling for a brand that, somewhat ironically, fell onto hard times as a company but still retains a relatively strong reputation.

Hon Hai is virtually unknown outside of industry circles, but is one of the world’s leading contract manufacturers that is most often cited as producer of iPhones for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). Likewise, Hisense is a relatively well-known TV maker in China, but is virtually unknown outside the country, creating obstacles for its global aspirations. Then there’s Sharp, the former Japanese electronics superstar that fell onto hard times was was taken over by Hon Hai last year. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba’s Tmall Steps Into Southeast Asia

Bottom line: Alibaba’s launch of its popular Tmall into several markets with large Chinese populations shows it is still looking for a strong overseas formula, underscoring its dependence on China for the foreseeable future.

Tmall marches into Singapore

E-commerce juggernaut Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is making its latest global expansion noise with word that it will launch a version of its popular B2C Tmall online marketplace targeting overseas buyers in Southeast Asia. I have to admit I’m not completely sure about the significance of the move, since the company already has a wide ranging network covering a number of overseas markets through its AliExpress and Lazada services.

The bottom line seems to be that Alibaba is taking a somewhat fragmented and multi-brand approach to the overseas market, as it searches for formulas for success in an area that so far has been somewhat elusive. The company only derives about 10 percent of its revenue from overseas operations at the moment, despite numerous attempts to develop markets outside China. Read Full Post…

CHIPS: Chinese Buyer Makes Last-Ditch Effort at Lattice

Bottom line: Lattice Semiconductor’s sale to a Chinese buyer stands a 50-50 chance of getting national security clearance, benefiting from warming ties between the US and China and lack of defense-related technologies involved.

Lattice still trying to sell to Chinese buyer

More than a year after it first became an acquisition target for chip-hungry Chinese buyers, Lattice Semiconductor (Nasdaq: LSCC) is back in the headlines again with what looks like a last-ditch effort at salvaging a sale. Lattice is clearly a mid-sized maker of microchips that fits the profile of what Beijing would like to buy, with a market cap of about $840 million, as China tries to build up its own semiconductor sector that can compete with global giants like Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and TSMC (Taipei: 2330).

But western governments are wary of China’s aggressive ambitions, which include generous funds for M&A of Asian and western chip makers. A deal first announced more than a year ago saw one of the most aggressive buyers, Tsinghua Unigroup, buy a small stake in Lattice, but then fail to parlay that into an outright acquisition. Now another group, Canyon Bridge Capital Partners, is getting ready to make a third appeal for its plan to purchase Lattice in a filing to the regulator that reviews such deals for national security considerations. Read Full Post…

FINANCE: SEC Hedges in Chicago Stock Exchange Sale Approval

Bottom line: A Chinese group’s plan to buy the Chicago Stock Exchange could get vetoed by the US securities regulator over concerns about the buyer’s inability to prevent the market from becoming a breeding ground for financial abuses.

SEC takes time on Chicago Stock Exchange sale review

Nearly a year and a half after it was first announced, the sale of the Chicago Stock Exchange to an obscure Chinese buyer is still awaiting approval, in what would be a relatively landmark deal in the finance space. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised to read that this particular deal was still pending, as I figured it was either dead or had closed by now.

The deal announced in February last year would see a group led by Chongqing Casin Enterprise Group purchase one of America’s oldest but also most irrelevant stock exchanges. Some politicians had voiced concerns about the deal for the usual reasons, namely the exchange could provide a foothold for China to wreak mischief in US financial markets. But CFIUS, the agency that reviews deals for national security concerns, previously approved the deal, leading all of us to believe it would get done. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Lenovo Eyeing CEO Change?

Bottom line: Yang Yuanqing is likely to cede his CEO title at Lenovo to recently returned executive Liu Jun soon, which could be followed by more risk taking and big changes to the company’s lackluster smartphone unit.

Lenovo’s Yang set to cede CEO title?

I used to make fun of mobile carrier China Unicom (HKEx: 763; NYSE: CHU) for its never-ending management reshuffles, but now the more respectable Lenovo (HKEx: 992) is quickly taking that title with its own series of nonstop personnel moves in a bid to right its sputtering ship. What’s interesting to note is that the series of moves are gradually creeping their way to the top of the company, meaning they could eventually unseat chief Yang Yuanqing, which is what I’ve been calling for all along.

This latest move would certainly be the highest yet, and follows Lenovo’s announcement last month of the reorganization of its China region that accounts for more than a quarter of its business. (English article) One part of that overhaul saw the return of former executive Liu Jun to the company to take a top position, and if the latest reports are true Liu could soon take over Yang’s title as company CEO. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: SF Express, Alibaba’s Cainiao Tussle Over Data

Bottom line: Alibaba may have to tone down its aggressive style of data collection from its business partners following a tiff with SF Express, but its business won’t face any major impact.

SF takes on Cainiao in data wars

A conflict involving leading courier SF Express (Shenzhen: 002352) and Alibaba’s (NYSE: BABA) Cainiao logistics arm was all over the headlines at the end of last week, in a clash of titans that saw the pair suddenly sever their business relationship. At the center of the issue was data, and Alibaba’s near obsession with getting its hands on every piece of data possible as it tries to build up a big data empire.

But just as quickly as it consumed the headlines, this particular clash appears to have been resolved with some mediation by the government. There are a number of lessons in all this, but the biggest seems to be that Alibaba will need to rein in its bullying tactics that it wields by virtue of its huge market dominance. Otherwise it could face the wrath of companies like SF Express, and ultimately a commerce regulator that might decide the e-commerce juggernaut is unfairly abusing its near monopoly on the market. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Crisis Grows for LeEco’s Coolpad, Yidao

Bottom line: Ongoing crises being faced by LeEco-backed Yidao and Coolpad are likely to deepen in the month ahead, as each company gets abandoned by its major stakeholder and is forced to grapple with rapidly deteriorating business.

Coolpad releases preliminary 2016 results

Two companies snapped up by former online video superstar LeEco (Shenzhen: 300104) are in the crisis headlines this morning, with smartphone maker Coolpad (HKEx: 2369) and car services operator Yidao both driving rapidly towards financial collapse. The first headline has Coolpad announcing preliminary results for 2016 that look quite alarming, as an ongoing back-and-forth with its auditor adds more worries to its story.

The second story has Yidao promising its increasingly unhappy unpaid drivers they will finally get their money late this month, as it tells the world it’s in the process of raising new funds. And if you believe that one, I have a nice bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Alibaba Pumps Up Ele.me, Baidu Take-Out in Play?

Bottom line: Alibaba could take control of Ele.me after the latter’s latest fund-raising, and then make a bid for Baidu’s take-out dining service, leaving just two major players in the sector as it nears a more sustainable state.

Alibaba set to swallow Ele.me?

The take-out dining wars have taken another interesting twist, with word that one of the oldest players, Ele.me, is on the cusp of raising a fresh $1 billion in new funds. What’s interesting about this latest fund raising is that it’s being led by Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), which is also trying to carve out a niche in the market through its own Koubei take-out delivery service. But even more intriguing is the possibility that this new funding could be aimed at giving Ele.me the firepower it needs to buy out Baidu’s (Nasdaq: BIDU) take-out delivery service, which is reportedly being shopped by the country’s leading search engine.

There are many threads to this story, but the bottom line is an end game is slowly coming into sight for China’s take-out delivery business, following the typical boom period we often see for this kind of emerging sector. The current field of take-out dining services is dominated by three names, Alibaba-backed Ele.me, Tencent-backed (HKEx: 700) Meituan-Dianping and Baidu take-out. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Sharing Economy Opens to Umbrellas

Bottom line: A new umbrella-sharing company reflects China’s tendency to overzealously jump into new trends, in this case shared economy ventures, and is likely to fold within its first two years.

Startup sees big bucks in shared umbrellas

China is rapidly emerging as ground zero for new concepts in the sharing economy. Our streets have already become flooded with shared bicycles, shared smartphone batteries are finding their way into our shops, and shared offices are taking over our cities. Now a new company has found yet another way to share, with word that a startup has just landed some angel investment for a shared umbrella firm.

In this case the company and the amounts of money are relatively insignificant, with Yisan Technology getting a modest 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) to begin its operations in the boomtown of Shenzhen. (English article) But the funding does highlight China’s tendency to go overboard with many new technologies, in this case pouring millions and even billions of dollars into causes with questionable futures. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Sohu Brings Home Changyou, LeEco Slashes Jobs

Bottom line: Sohu could privatize and sell itself after its Changyou buyout, while LeEco’s mass layoffs could presage a shuttering of all its newer operations as it reverts to its original online video business.

LeEco slashes jobs

Two relatively large pullbacks are in the headlines as we reach the midpoint of the week, led by the latest privatization bid for online game specialist Changyou (Nasdaq: CYOU) by parent Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU). That news is coupled with the unrelated by equally large retrenchment by struggling online video company LeEco (Shenzhen: 300104), which is making mass layoffs in its bid for survival.

Each of these stories is interesting because the future existence of a major company is at stake. In the first case, the Changyou privatization could signal a future privatization and sale of the company’s parent, Sohu, one of China’s oldest Internet players. The LeEco story represents the latest twist in the downward spiral for this company, which appears to be rapidly slimming down or closing most of its operations outside its original core online video service. Read Full Post…