FINANCE: WeChat Sips with Starbucks; Alipay in Europe, Australia

Bottom line: Starbucks’ selection of WeChat before Alipay for in-store electronic payments is a symbolic victory for the former, while Alipay’s aggressive global expansion could eventually help it to overtake UnionPay outside China.

WeChat ties with Starbucks

China’s two leading mobile payments services are both in the headlines, led by word of a major new tie-up between Tencent’s (HKEx: 700) WeChat and coffee lifestyle titan Starbucks (NYSE: SBUX). I have to admit that my interest in this particular tie-up is somewhat personal, as I’m a big fan of both of these companies and have been waiting a long time for such a partnership.

But equally significant is the fact that Starbucks chose WeChat before archrival Alipay. That same Alipay is in a couple of its own headlines, both showing how it’s trying to expand abroad to compete with China’s other major electronic payments system, the state-owned UnionPay. One of those headlines has Alipay in a new tie-up in Australia, while the other has it announcing partnerships with four major financial companies to expand its footprint in Europe. Read Full Post…

VIDEO: Embattled LeEco Sued in HK as Bills Pile Up

Bottom line: A new Hong Kong lawsuit against LeEco by a small creditor over unpaid bills could mark the start of a new wave, which could ultimately snowball into a new crisis as its partners scramble to get back money they’re owed before it’s too late.

HK newspaper sues LeEco for unpaid debt

I’ve been skillfully avoiding writing about the embattled LeEco (Shenzhen: 300104) for the past month, even as the former online video high-flyer landed at the center of a storm that could ultimately result in its downfall. So a small story in the latest headlines, involving a lawsuit against the company over unpaid bills, looks like a good opening to take a quick look at a high-tech tale that consumed the Chinese headlines for much of last month. Read Full Post…

SPORTS: Wanda Pedals to Guilin in China Sports Tour

Bottom line: Wanda’s first major made-for-China sporting event, a bicycle tour of scenic Guangxi province, looks like a well-conceived initiative that could auger well for its longer-term effort to tap the Chinese sports market.

Wanda launch Guangxi cycling event

Following its opening of several massive theme parks across China, entertainment aspirant Wanda Group has just announced the launch of what it hopes will become one of the nation’s premier sporting events that can earn a place on the global bicycling map. That announcement has Wanda pedaling its new Tour of Guangxi event, which will take cyclists through one of China’s most scenic provinces that includes the famous craggy mountains surrounding the city of Guilin. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Unicom Seeks New Life with BAT Magic

Bottom line: Unicom is likely to choose all 3 of the BAT companies as equity and strategic partners under Beijing’s pilot program to invigorate big state-run companies, but none of the tie-ups will produce meaningful results.  

Unicom eyes BAT partnerships

China Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE: CHU), the perennial laggard among China’s 3 major telcos, is reportedly looking for new life by tying up with the nation’s big 3 Internet companies, Tencent (HKEx: 700), Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU). I might normally say “so what?” to this particular development, since it seems like Unicom and its 2 fellow state-run telcos are regularly announcing this kind of partnership, always with little or no meaningful impact on their business. Read Full Post…

M&A: China-US Deals Stall as Trump Presidency Nears

Bottom line: A Chinese bid for the Chicago Stock Exchange could get vetoed on concerns about exposure to the US financial system, while a similar bid for chip maker Lattice could get approved due to its relatively small size.

Lattice buyer has Beijing backing

Two cross-border deals involving China M&A in the US appear to be stalling, even before the protectionist-minded Donald Trump becomes the next US president. That certainly doesn’t bode well for either deal, one in the high-tech chip space and the other in the financial sector, since both could easily have Chinese government backing. One of those has a Sichuan-based investor group trying to buy the tiny Chicago Stock Exchange, while the other has a different group trying to buy mid-sized chip design house Lattice Semiconductor (Nasdaq: LSCC). Read Full Post…

IPOs: Meitu Aims High with Price Range, Attracts Low-Brow Investors

Bottom line: Meitu’s shares are likely to price and debut weakly due to skepticism about its profit potential from big western investors, but could perform better over the longer term if the beauty app can monetize its large user base.

Meitu sets IPO price range

What’s likely to be Hong Kong’s biggest high-tech IPO in nearly a decade is creeping ahead, with word that beauty app operator Meitu has set a price range for its widely watched offering that puts it within reach of its target to raise $750 million. But a read between the lines shows that this offering could easily price at the lower end of its range, following earlier investor worries that Meitu might have difficulty leveraging its huge customer base into meaningful profits anytime soon.

Meitu’s quandary is hardly unique, in an Internet universe where having huge user numbers doesn’t always translate to big profits. In this case Meitu, operator of an app that lets users tweak selfies to make themselves look more attractive, is quite rich in terms of traffic, with 450 million active users. But it hasn’t found a way to actually make money from that audience, and instead earns 95 percent of its revenue from sales of smartphones that draw people to its app. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: NetEase Outgames Tencent, Porks Up

Bottom line: NetEase’s finish at the top of a global ranking for mobile game downloads attests to its rising status in the sector, while the pork business of its founder Ding Lei also appears to be gaining traction after years of effort. 

NetEase mobile games top Tencent in October

Perennial runner-up NetEase (Nasdaq: NTES) has suddenly vaulted into the champion’s spot on China’s mobile game leader board, unexpectedly passing Tencent (HKEx:) in an important metric for their industry. The surprise move is probably a fluke, and I expect Tencent will retake the top spot in the next rankings for most sales from online mobile game app downloads compiled by App Annie. Still, it does underscore why I’ve previously said that NetEase is probably the most underappreciated company among China’s top Internet players. Read Full Post…

CONSUMER: Embattled Gree Goes Goodwill Hunting with Big Raises

Bottom line: Gree’s new largess to employees with an across-the-board raise is an attempt to win back public good will, following setbacks for chief executive Dong Mingzhu in her attempt to defy shareholder wishes. 

Gree’s Dong Mingzhu offers Christmas largess

I don’t usually write about Gree (Shenzhen: 000651), but an unusual storm of controversy around the home appliance maker nicely summarizes several tendencies that make Chinese companies both entertaining but also frustrating for westerners like myself to observe. The company’s main claims to fame are its air conditioners, and also its colorful chief executive Dong Mingzhu, who is often called China’s most powerful businesswoman.

Dong was doing a bit of goodwill hunting in the latest headlines, with word that Gree has decided to boost wages for all of its 70,000 employees by a 1,000 yuan ($145) each per month, a relatively large figure that probably equates to raises of 10 percent or more. The bigger subtext is that this raise comes after a series of personal setbacks for Dong, making the move look like her attempt to win back public approval and restore confidence in her leadership. Read Full Post…

TRAVEL: Ctrip Flies Abroad with Skyscanner, as Profits Wobble

Bottom line: Ctrip’s latest results and its first major overseas purchase point to a company with the wind at its back as it heads into a new phase, which could see it become China’s first globally competitive Internet company.

Ctrip buys Skyscanner

High-flying online travel agent Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP) is taking its first major flight overseas, with announcement that it has just agreed to buy travel search specialist Skyscanner in a deal that values the British company at a hefty 1.4 billion pounds ($1.65 billion). At the same time, Ctrip has also reported earnings that show its bottom line is suffering some short-term pain as it swallows the profit-challenged Qunar (Nasdaq: QUNR), a former bitter rival that Ctrip now controls. Read Full Post…

IPOs: Meitu Marches Towards HK Listing, Draws Value Skeptics

Bottom line: Meituan should be able to eventually monetize the vast audience for its selfie app, but may have to settle for a valuation below the $5 billion it wants for its IPO due to shorter-term investor skepticism. 

Meituan banks on beauty for $750 mln IPO

Plans for a Hong Kong listing by selfie app Meitu are steaming ahead, but are also drawing some differing opinions from different sides of the East-West border. It seems Chinese fans of the app that lets users enhance photos of themselves to show their best face have quite a high opinion of this local beauty, believing it could be worth up to $5 billion. But westerners are a tad more skeptical, noting that Meitu now derives most of its money from smartphone sales rather than from anything directly related to the app. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Weibo Rocks Without Alibaba, Break-Up Ahead?

Bottom line: Weibo’s lessening dependence on Alibaba is making an acquisition of the former by the latter look less likely, and raises the possibility that Weibo could instead make a play for its parent, Sina.

Weibo weans self from Alibaba

I’ve been predicting for a while that e-commerce leader Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) would soon make a bid for Weibo (WB), often called the Twitter (Nasdaq: TWTR) of China, due to an increasingly cozy relationship between the two. But the latest results from Weibo could prompt me to revise my earlier prediction, with the revelation that Weibo actually appears to be weaning itself from its heavy dependence on Alibaba.

This story has a number of threads, underpinned by a landmark tie-up that saw Alibaba buy 18 percent of Weibo 3 years ago, and then later increase that to the current level of 30 percent. The idea was that Weibo, which was losing money at the time of the original tie-up, could milk Alibaba’s connections with thousands of online merchants to find new business opportunities. Such a development did indeed occur, and last year business from Alibaba accounted for a whopping 30 percent of Weibo’s total. Read Full Post…