MEDIA: Sina, Focus Media Team on Fashion Investment

Bottom line: Focus Media could make a bid for Sina’s core web portal assets within the next year, following their co-investment in a fashion public relations specialist.

Sina, Focus Media invest in Bazaar

It’s a relatively slow time during the final dog days of summer here in Beijing, so I thought I would zoom in on an interesting new investment in a company called Bazaar Energy, which bills itself as a “fashion public relations solutions provider.” But what’s most interesting about this investment isn’t the company receiving the money, but rather the pair of companies providing the funding.

In this case it’s the pair of leading web portal Sina (Nasdaq: SINA) and outdoor media firm Focus Media (Shenzhen: 002027) that are providing the money, which appears to be quite a modest sum. This particular pairing is interesting less for the target company, and more because it brings together a pair of investors that were once intending to merge. Much has happened since that merger plan fell apart, and this new pairing raises the slim but still interesting prospect that this pair of companies might attempt to relaunch that plan. Read Full Post…

Baidu takeout gets taken out

INTERNET: Baidu Spits Out Takeout Dining Service

Bottom line: Baidu could announce a sale of its takeout dining unit to Ele.me by the end of the month, in a smart exit that will leave the industry with two major players and could result in a major write-off for Baidu.

Baidu takeout gets taken out
Baidu takeout gets taken out

In a move that’s been a long time coming, media are reporting that search giant Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) is on the cusp of a deal to unload its aging takeout delivery service to rival Ele.me, in a deal that would essentially whittle the ultra competitive space down to just two players. This particular development follows quite a typical pattern for Baidu, whose founder Robin Li has discovered he can quickly gain market share in new areas by throwing lots of money at them, sometimes through organic build-ups and sometimes through acquisitions.

Unfortunately, Li also has a strong track record of building up money-burning black holes that become problematic because they consume so much cash that they can’t be easily shut down. He has closed at least one such venture in the past, an e-commerce venture with Japan’s Rakuten. In another instance he sold off his Qunar online travel service to industry leader Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP). Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Giddy Unicom Picks 14 Mixed-Ownership Partners

Bottom line: Unicom’s choice of 14 partners for a mixed-ownership reform plan involving its Shanghai-listed unit is far too many, and is ultimately likely to fail when those partners become frustrated and sell their shares.

Unicom puts 14 new partners into its mix

What I feared might happen has come to pass in a mixed-ownership reform plan being crafted by China Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE: CHU), one of the nation’s three telcos that is experimenting with selling some of itself to private investors. That’s a reference to reports in early August that the company might be planning to take on as many as 20 partners in the plan to sell a significant stake in its Shanghai-listed unit, China United Network Communications (Shanghai: 600050), to strategic private investors.

My worry was that taking on so many partners would effectively dilute the plan, since none of the partners would receive a very big stake and Unicom’s attention would be too fragmented. As it turns out, the number 20 was a bit too high, but not far off the mark. That’s the latest word, as Unicom has finally announced its mixed-ownership reform plan that will see it partner with 14 private companies in a bid to become more dynamic. Read Full Post…

RETAIL: Alibaba, Tencent Take Wars to Convenience Stores

Bottom line: Alibaba’s move into unmanned coffee shops could stand a strong chance of success due to its relative simplicity, while WeChat’s move into Hong Kong convenience stores should also be relatively well received.

Alibaba samples coffee shops

Convenience stores are shaping up as the next battlefield in the wars for supremacy between Internet titans Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and Tencent (HKEx: 700), at least based on the latest headlines. One of those has Alibaba preparing to roll out an unmanned coffee store concept in its hometown of Hangzhou, while the other has Tencent’s WeChat rolling into Hong Kong in a big way in a new tie-up with 7-Eleven convenience stores.

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) probably doesn’t need to be too worried just yet about the new threat from Alibaba in coffee shops, though many of the dozens of smaller coffee chains that have set up shop in China these last few years might take note. Likewise, Hong Kong’s incumbent electronic payments service, Octopus, probably doesn’t need to worry just yet either. Read Full Post…

FINANCE: Jack Ma’s Yu’ebao Fund Gets Too Fat

Bottom line: Yu’ebao’s further lowering of investment limits shows the Ant Financial-owned fund is growing too unwieldy, and the company would be better advised to diversify its wealth management product portfolio.

Yu’ebao gets too fat on cash

Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) founder Jack Ma is quickly discovering that his super-aggressive promotional ways can sometimes yield too much success. That’s my quick assessment of the bottom line from reports that Yu’ebao, the phenomenally successful fund launched by Alibaba’s former financial unit Ant Financial, is further capping the size of individual investments it will take.

The new cap is being set at a relatively low 100,000 yuan ($15,000), and comes just three months after Ant set an initial upper limit of 250,000 yuan per individual Yu’ebao account. The limits are clearly being put in place to avoid Yu’ebao spiraling out of control, as the fund has already become the world’s largest just four years after its launch. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Mobike Outage Leaves Commuters Sweaty, Late for Work

Bottom line: A peak-time outage for Mobike highlights how popular the shared bike service has become in a very short time and its vulnerability to hiccups, even though bigger issues are more likely to threaten its longer-term survival.

Mobike sees mass outage
Mobike sees mass outage

We’ll end the work week with a story about work itself that shows just how pervasive shared bike services have become in China’s major cities in just a year’s time. The story, involving a mass outage for leading operator Mobike, illustrates how such new technologies are prone to hiccups, and also how quickly they catch on in a place like China.

The question with all of these new technologies, especially a recent flurry related to the concept of a shared economy, is whether any will have legs and stand the test of time. The answer will probably be “yes” for a select few, such as the wave of cashlessness now taking over China that has even an old timer like me rarely spending cash for anything anymore and instead paying with my smartphone. But I suspect the vast majority of these new concepts, including shared bikes, will ultimately end up on the scrap heap of good ideas that didn’t quite work out. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Tencent – China’s New Opiate of the Masses?

Bottom line: Tencent could be forced to take more measures to control addictive play of its popular “Honour of Kings” game, which could take a short-term toll on its gaming business.

Military critical of Tencent hit game

Internet juggernaut Tencent (HKEx: 700) has been in nonstop headlines lately for its smash hit game called “Honour of Kings”, along with its stock price that keeps reaching new highs. The company must certainly be feeling a bit uneasy from all the publicity, especially since Tencent tends to be quite low-key in line with the style of founder Pony Ma. But equally worrisome is the negative publicity “Honour of Kings” has been getting due to its addictive nature.

There’s a reason that Tencent and some of its major peers can continue to post strong double-digit growth despite their huge size. In Tencent’s case the reason lies at least partly with its phenomenal success as a game developer and operator, and also its related ability to create strong online communities from such gamers.  Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Smartisan Gets New Funding, But From Where?

Bottom line: Smartisan’s new funding and plans to produce 5-6 smartphones a year look like an anomaly in the highly competitive market, and it’s unlikely to survive as a standalone entity over the next 5 years.

Smartisan gets new funding

I was a bit surprised to read that a clear second-tier smartphone player, the uppity Smartisan, has received 100 million yuan ($147 million) in new funding, as we begin the latest week of summer. I haven’t seen this company’s name or many second-tier players like OnePlus in more than half a year, though their collective names have come up quite a bit in the bigger smartphone numbers.

That’s a reference to the “other” category in the quarterly smartphone figures put out by data tracking firms like IDC, which show that this collective group that includes all names lumped together after the top 5 is rapidly losing share. In IDC’s latest China market data that came out last week, the top 5 vendors, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), collectively controlled 73 percent of the market. “Others”, including the likes of Smartisan, had to divvy up the remaining 26.9 percent. But what was most notably was that 26.9 percent marked a sharp decline from last year, when this group controlled 36.2 percent. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Unicom Plan Gaining Too Many Partner

Bottom line: Unicom’s mixed-ownership reform plan could prove a dud if it chooses too many partners, which looks likely based on the latest reports.

Unicom eyes too many cooks for pilot plan

I haven’t written for a while about a highly anticipated plan to inject some new life into perennial laggard telco China Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE; CHU) through a Beijing-led pilot program, even as reports build that an announcement of the mixed-ownership plan are imminent. Those reports include the latest word that an announcement could finally come later this month.

But what caught my eye in this particular report was the number 20, a reference to how many private companies could potentially take part in this plan. That number looks a bit ridiculous to me, and would completely wipe out any potential benefits that Unicom might have received from the program. But perhaps that’s what this laggard carrier wants. Read Full Post…

TRAVEL: Ctrip Goes Offline, Tongcheng Finds Profits

Bottom line: Ctrip’s offline travel alliance campaign looks like a shrewd move with good chances of success, while Tongcheng’s move back into profits shows the sector is heading into a new stable period.

Tongcheng travels back to profits

A couple of travel-related stories are in the headlines today, led by a blitz into the offline realm by leading online agent Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP). The other item has smaller rival Tongcheng reporting its first profit in four years, as it becomes the latest to emerge from a prolonged price war that bloodied the entire industry and sent most companies into the loss column.

Neither of these stories is huge, which partly reflects the fact that this industry is finally emerging from a brutal period to a new one of relative calm. But Ctrip is clearly looking for its next battle front, after consolidating its position by taking over most of its major rivals, including Qunar and eLong, to end the price wars. Read Full Post…

IPOs: Sohu to List Sogou, AirMedia Lowers Buyout Offer

Bottom line: Sohu’s plan to list its Sogou search unit has a 50-50 chance of happening this year, while AirMedia’s 2-year-old privatization plan is likely to close within that period.

Sohu talks IPO for Sogou — again

A couple of IPOs are in the headlines as we head into the new week, led by an often-discussed offering by perennial third-place search engine Sogou, which is co-owned by Internet titan Tencent (HKEx: 700) and second-rate portal Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU). At the same time, another second-rate company, AirMedia (Nasdaq: AMCN), has slashed the proposed buyout price for its attempt to go private, reflecting the company’s own troubles.

Both of these stories have a bit of the “who cares?” element for long-term investors, since neither company is one that has particularly strong long-term prospects. But they do both reflect the larger realm of smaller Chinese Internet and media companies that are struggling for attention, as investors get mesmerized by giants like Tencent, Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and JD.com (Nasdaq: JD). Read Full Post…