INTERNET: Meitu Fires Up Online Services in Bid for Excitement

Bottom line: Meitu’s new disclosure of rapid growth in its internet services revenue looks encouraging, as it takes advantage of its early arrival status in a beauty products sector with big profit potential. 

Meitu makes over image with internet revenue growth

A month after its lackluster IPO, beauty app operator Meitu (HKEx: 1357) is trying to shore up its sagging stock by releasing some financial data that proves it’s more than just a place for people to doll up selfies to share with friends. The particular data shows that Meitu actually earned some relatively sizable Internet revenue from online sales and advertising in the month of December, proving it can make money more directly linked to its core beauty app.

Before that, the lion’s share of the company’s revenue had come from sales of smartphones optimized for its app. Critics had argued such a business model wasn’t really sustainable, since many such purchases are one-time items that might not be repeated. By comparison, online advertising and sales of products linked to its core app seem more sustainable. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Huawei Meets 2016 Goals, Xiaomi Looks to 2017

Bottom line: Xiaomi could return to growth mode in China this year on the strength of stronger models, while Huawei’s local market share will contract as it focuses on profitable sales and backs away from money-losing businesses.

Huawei meets reduced smartphone target

Two of China’s former smartphone leaders are in the headlines going into the weekend, casting a spotlight on the difficulties these past high-flyers face after becoming king of the world’s biggest market. In one story the faded Xiaomi is saying the worst is behind it, and the company is aiming for a relatively ambitious 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) in sales this year.

In the other, the still-buoyant Huawei is announcing its smartphone sales rose an impressive 29 percent last year. But that figure is still below its earlier target, and also is being revealed just a week after the company said it was abandoning its older model of growth at any cost. Accordingly, I expect we’ll see sharply slower growth this year for Huawei in China, as it looks for profitable gains over simply getting more market share. Read Full Post…

CHIPS: Seagate Tries Less Production, More Tech Sharing in China Retrench

Bottom line: Seagate’s closure of its Suzhou factory, combined with its earlier formation of a Chinese technology-sharing joint venture, reflect the changing approach away from local manufacturing that western tech firms are taking towards China.

Seagate closes Suzhou factory

New reports are saying that hard disk drive maker Seagate (NYSE: STX) is closing down a factory in the eastern city of Suzhou, as part of a restructuring plan to revive its operations. Such a development isn’t huge news, since the global semiconductor sector is undergoing a major consolidation.

But this particular closure also comes just months after Seagate announced a new tie-up with Chinese partner Sugon to tap the local market for IT products and services. So the bigger question becomes: What’s the meaning of this factory closure and the newer joint venture, and what’s the outlook for semiconductor and high-tech equipment manufacturing in China? Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Gets Alter Ego with Yahoo-Turned-Altaba

Bottom line: Alibaba will closely watch the performance of the newly minted Altaba over the next 1-2 years, and could make a privatization bid with Softbank if it feels the company is undermining its own stock.

Yahoo to morph into Altaba

Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) co-founder Jerry Yang never would have dreamed a decade ago that the ground-breaking search engine he co-founded might someday morph into a Chinese e-commerce company called Alibaba (NYSE: BABA). But that’s pretty much what has just happened, with official word from Yang’s former baby that it will change its name to Altaba following the pending sale of its core Internet business. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Finds Friend in Trump, Quagmire in Intime

Bottom line: A meeting between Jack Ma and Donald Trump is a major coup for Alibaba and bodes well for its US relations, while a privatization plan for its partly owned Intime Retail reflects its spottier record for strategic investments.

Jack Ma scores Donald Trump meeting

E-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is wasting no time making big headlines in the New Year, starting with a major coup that has seen founder Jack Ma become the first big Chinese business leader to score a meeting with incoming US president Donald Trump. At the same time, the company is also suffering a much smaller defeat back at home, with word that Alibaba will help to privatize Intime Retail (HKEx: 1833), after becoming a major shareholder in the brick-and-mortar retailer nearly 3 years ago.  Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: China Exports Price Wars to India; Nokia Returns to China

Bottom line: Chinese smartphone brands with local production are most likely to survive upcoming price wars they are exporting to India, while Nokia’s new smartphones are unlikely to make any inroads in China over the next 2-3 years. 

China exports smartphone price wars to India

A case of deja vu is rapidly shaping up in India, where Chinese smartphone makers have flocked over the last two years in search of growth outside their overheated home market. In this case media are reporting that Chinese brands have surged to take half of the Indian market by dumping millions of their cheap look-alike Android phones into the country.

Meantime back in their own home country, nostalgia has become the word of the moment with word that Nokia (Helsinki: NOK1V) has officially re-entered a market it once dominated. Nokia joins a number of other faded brands to rediscover China, including former arch-rival Motorola, which has become the smartphone flagship of the brand’s current owner Lenovo (HKEx: 992). Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Creditor Chases LeEco; TCL Teases BlackBerry

Bottom line: A new arbitration claim by a LeEco supplier could trigger a domino effect that sends the company into crisis, while TCL’s first BlackBerry model is likely to get lukewarm reviews when it debuts in March.

TCL teases first BlackBerry model at CES

We’ll close out the week with a couple of smartphone headlines, which seems appropriate since the world’s biggest consumer electronics show, CES, is taking place this week in Las Vegas. All 3 companies in the news are showing off their wares at CES, including cellphone stalwart TCL (Shenzhen: 000100), which is teasing us with video of its first model under a new tie-up with struggling smartphone pioneer BlackBerry (Toronto: BB).

Meantime, the other company on my radar, the cash-challenged LeEco (Shenzhen: 300104), was also in CES headlines earlier this week after showing off a sexy new energy car it’s helping to develop. But the company has just landed in a far more ominous headline here in China, where one of its smartphone manufacturing partners is calling for arbitration to try and get cash for a growing pile of unpaid bills. Read Full Post…

IPOs: Sogou Tests IPO Market, But Does Anyone Care?

Bottom line: Sogou is unlikely to make an IPO this year, despite new talk of potential for such a plan from its CEO, and may ultimately never list due to its lackluster performance. 

Sogou floats another IPO plan

Online search engine Sogou is testing the market yet again for a potential IPO, hoping to spin a story of opportunity to grab market share from scandal-tainted industry leader Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU). That story may sound attractive to investors unfamiliar with this perennial number-three in China’s search market, whose main shareholders are web portal Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU) and Internet titan Tencent (HKEx: 700).

The only problem is that Sogou’s credibility is nearly nil these days, a direct result of the equally low credibility of controlling shareholder Sohu, which seizes on any opportunity to talk up IPOs for its various units. Accordingly, I will quite definitively go on the record saying this particular IPO won’t happen this year, and possibly not ever, regardless of what anyone at Sohu or Sogou says. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Huawei Declares End to Growth at Any Cost

Bottom line: Huawei’s revenue growth for 2017 is likely to drop by more than half from 2016’s rate of 32 percent as it cuts its money-losing businesses, with the biggest slowdown likely to come in its smartphone unit.

Huawei to focus on profitability in 2017

Quality over quantity is a growing theme in China these days, as the nation puts aside its previous pursuit of high growth at any cost in exchange for more sustainable expansion in high-quality areas. After starting at the top in Beijing, that theme is trickling down the corporate food chain to telecoms giant Huawei, whose New Year’s message hints that company growth could slow sharply this year.

Or course everything is relative, since Huawei has just announced preliminary results that show its revenue for 2016 jumped an impressive 32 percent to 520 billion yuan, or a whopping $74 billion. To put things in perspective, its biggest global rival Ericsson (Stockholm: ERICb) is seeing its sales contract, and is expected to post about $65 billion in revenue this year. Read Full Post…

MEDIA: Top Shanghai Newspaper Folds, Tries to Transform

Bottom line: Closure of Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post was inevitable due to the decline of traditional media, and its online effort ThePaper stands a better than 50 percent chance of longer-term survival due to relatively good execution.

Oriental Morning Post yields to ThePaper

On this next-to-last work day before the New Year, I’m taking a break from the usual high-tech buzz to zoom in on a subject that’s even closer to my heart — and wallet. That subject is the rapid transformation sweeping through the media both in China and the west, creating huge uncertainties. That wave is in the headlines today with announcement of the closure of one of Shanghai’s largest and most respected newspapers.

Here I have to admit my own bias, since as a Shanghai resident until recently I was at one point quite fond of the Oriental Morning Post, which has just announced it will cease publication on January 1. The news is hardly shocking, as it was first rumored in the middle of the year and a couple of my sources informally confirmed it for me since then. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: China Telecom Spins Off Content Units

Bottom line: China Telecom’s sale of several key entertainment assets to a separately run and listed unit reflects the company’s more dynamic nature compared with its 2 peers, as it tries to create services that can compete with private-sector rivals.

China Telecom spins off entertainment services

China Telecom (HKEx: 728; NYSE: CHA) is showing once more why it’s a telco to watch, with word that it’s formally spinning off 4 of the main entertainment businesses on its main E Surfing platform to one of its independently run and listed units. In this case the telco is spinning off the four to its fully-owned but separately managed Besttone Holdings (Shanghai: 600640) unit, in what looks like a bid to make these services more competitive with private sector rivals. Read Full Post…