Latest Financial Trends & News for Internet in China

INTERNET: Baidu Rejigs Maps in Face of Competition

Bottom line: Baidu’s reorganization of its mapping unit reflects growing competition in the space, and could ultimately end in a shuttering of the service if its usage continues to decline. 

Baidu mapping service charts new direction

The wheels of restlessness at online search leader Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) are grinding into motion once more, with word that the company has made a major shift in its popular mapping division. Company watchers will know the restlessness to which I refer is a direct reference to Baidu’s founder Robin Li, who is famous for getting into new businesses, only to tire of and ultimately jettison them after just a few years.

In this case it’s probably far too early to say if that’s the case for Baidu’s mapping unit, which has been one of its most popular products for quite some time, thanks in no small part to its dominance in online search. The problem is that Baidu has failed to keep pace with more nimble competition, most notably from the Alibaba-owned (NYSE: BABA) AutoNavi. What’s more, an equally large potential rival is looming in the form of global giant Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which has recently begun updating its previously dormant China mapping service. Read Full Post…

STOCKS: China Eyes Quick Route Home for Offshore-Listed Firms

Bottom line: A new plan allowing offshore listed Chinese firms like Alibaba and Tencent to make secondary listings at home appears to have momentum and could stand a better than 50 percent chance of success.

China eyes new plan to bring home NY-, HK-listed firms

A mix of politics and business is in the air this week, as the annual National People’s Congress takes place in Beijing, including a concurrent gathering of business leaders who advise the nation’s legislature. Those leaders include most of the country’s leading high-tech CEOs, who are all getting peppered with questions about whether they would re-list at home if given the chance.

Most of those leaders are doing the politically correct thing and saying “of course,” including chiefs of Internet giants Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU), Tencent (HKEx; 700) and Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP), just to name a few. (Chinese article) Such talk is really a bit cheap and would be quite impractical in the current market, since de-listing such massive firms from their current markets would require tens of billions of dollars in most cases, and even hundreds of billions in the case of a massive company like Tencent. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Didi, Meituan Drive Into Each Others’ Turf in Search of Growth

Bottom line: Didi’s foray into takeout delivery and Meituan’s into private car services look like moves of desperation to make the companies more attractive as they get pressured to make IPOs by the end of next year.

Meituan eyes car services

Two of China’s biggest unlisted internet companies are in the headlines as the week winds down, each taking a shot at the other’s turf. One headline has the Uber-like Didi Chuxing hiring in preparation to launch a takeout dining service like the one operated by Meituan-Dianping. The other has Meituan-Dianping preparing to roll out its own private car services in seven Chinese cities, taking a direct shot at Didi.

The timing of these two news bits is probably coincidental, since I doubt they share information on their strategic planning. What’s more, the Meituan move into car services is just an extension of previous earlier news. From a bigger perspective, both items smack just slightly of desperation as these two companies look for growth in the face of stagnating core businesses. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Salivates at in ‘New Retail’ Vision

Bottom line: Alibaba’s potential purchase of could be the biggest piece yet in its pursuit of a “new retail” model, but could result in a case of indigestion as it tries to make the company profitable.

Alibaba salivates at

When it comes to acquisitions, e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) seems to have an insatiable appetite these days. After investing some 80 billion yuan ($12.7 billion) in brick-and-mortar retailing over the last couple of years, the company is now setting its eyes on take-out dining specialist, in a deal that could cost it around another $5 billion.

This particular buying binge does seem a bit more focused than Alibaba’s previous M&A patterns, which always felt a bit more random to me and covered a wide range of areas. In this instance, the company is pursuing founder Jack Ma’s vision of a “new retail” landscape that will combine Alibaba’s mastery of e-commerce with more traditional brick-and-mortar retailing. Read Full Post…

IPO: Xiaomi Partner Huami Defies Market in Trading Debut

Bottom line: A relatively solid debut for wristband maker Huami bodes well for offshore Chinese IPOs outside the financial services sector, including for smartphone giant Xiaomi.

High-tech wristband maker Huami posts modest gain in debut

Different people are putting different spins on the trading debut for the first major Chinese IPO in New York this year, for a company called Huami, which makes fitness trackers and rose 2.3 percent on its first day. From my perspective, this looks like a gravity-defying debut, since the broader market tanked on that same day, with most of the major indexes down around 4 percent in the week’s second major major sell-off.

From a broader perspective, this seems to bode well for offshore Chinese IPOs in the year ahead, at least for those that are in safer sectors like this. Companies from the more volatile fintech sector, which has been the subject of repeated regulation to rein in the sector, could be in for a tougher ride. But this kind of more consumer-related product, which is far less controversial, could enjoy some success on positive sentiment about the broader China consumer market. Read Full Post…

FINANCE: Ant Financial Crawls Back Into Bed with Alibaba

Bottom line: Alibaba’s purchase of 33 percent of Ant Financial looks like a shrewd move for both firms, making Ant more attractive in the run-up to an IPO likely to be one of the world’s biggest this year.

Alibaba and Ant back together

In what looks like a homecoming of sorts, e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) has just announced it is taking back a major stake in its Ant Financial affiliate. Followers of this pair will know they have quite a long and complex relationship, and were actually once part of the same company. But they were split apart around a decade ago for political reasons, which apparently aren’t an issue anymore.

The other major plank to this story is Ant’s own story, including the unusual way in which this deal was structured. The company, whose core asset is the popular Alipay electronic payments service, is gearing up for what could be one of the biggest fintech IPOs of this year, likely to raise several billion dollars in Hong Kong. Thus this particular move could be designed to draw more attention to this lesser-known Alibaba offspring, and also to relieve it of some of its financial burden in the run-up to that offering. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Toutiao Sues Baidu Over Search Abuse

Bottom line: Baidu’s anti-competitive behavior alleged in a lawsuit by Jinri Toutiao won’t have a long-term effect on its stock, but will draw the attention of an increasingly assertive anti-trust regulator.

Toutiao sues Baidu for manipulating search results

A humorous war of words has broken out between search leader Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) and news aggregating app Jinri Toutiao, also sometimes called Today’s Headlines, over unfair competition in the form of search manipulation. I’ll detail the allegations shortly. But on a more serious note, this particular lawsuit does raise the question of whether a search engine like Baidu is obliged to be objective in its results. Moreover, it could also open the company to allegations of abusing its market-leading position with anti-competitive actions.

This kind of monopoly-like position has become a growing issue on China’s Internet, which has recently shed the notion of being too small for antitrust treatment. The original BAT of Baidu, Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and Tencent (HKEx: 700) all now hold positions in search, e-commerce and games, respectively, that are quite lucrative and might be considered monopolies in many other markets. I personally would consider all three monopolies in China in terms of their ability to dominate their respective markets, and I suspect the regulator may someday attempt to challenge them the way that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) are now getting challenged in the rest of the world.  Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Alibaba’s Ant Takes a Bite of Hong Kong

Bottom line: Ant Financial’s purchase of 20 percent of Hong Kong restaurant ratings site OpenRice looks like a smart, incremental move to boost its presence in its first major foray to build a local customer base outside China.

Ant Financial buys into HK’s OpenRice

We’ll close out the week with a lighter story, with word that Alibaba’s (NYSE: BABA) Ant Financial affiliate has taken a nibble at Hong Kong with an investment in the territory’s most popular restaurant ratings site. On a more serious note, we should point out that this particular acquisition comes after the much higher-profile failure of Ant’s bid to buy US money-transfer giant MoneyGram (NYSE: MGI), which was vetoed by Washington on national security ground.

This latest particular purchase is somewhat interesting, as Hong Kong is quickly evolving into an important test case for whether Ant can successfully export its popular Alipay electronic payments service to other markets. Alipay is already widely available throughout the world, but only as a vehicle for Chinese to make payments when traveling overseas. Thus Ant really hasn’t tried to target local consumers in any market in meaningful ways outside China. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Trump-Ma Honeymoon Ends as Alibaba Lands on US Black List

Bottom line: The inclusion of Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace on the latest edition of a US blacklist for piracy signals US is taking a tougher line on trade issues.

Alibaba calls itself ‘scapegoat’ after landing on US blacklist

What a difference a year makes. It was just about this time a year ago that Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) founder Jack Ma scored a major coup by becoming the first major Chinese business leader to score a visit with incoming US President Donald Trump. (previous post) The pair were all smiles back then, with Ma trumpeting a plan to create 1 million American jobs by helping US businesses selling their products into China over Alibaba’s popular e-commerce platforms.

Fast forward to the present, where Ma isn’t smiling anymore, and Alibaba has even taken the unusual step of accusing Trump of making the company into a scapegoat in a growing tide of US protectionism. The abrupt turnabout hinges on two major developments, the most recent being the placement of Alibaba’s consumer-to-consumer (C2C) Taobao website on Washington’s annual “notorious” list of marketplaces with rampant trafficking in pirated goods. That follows another setback for Ma earlier this month when a plan by his Ant Financial saw its plan for a major US acquisition crushed by the Trump administration. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Google Re-lands on China Map

Bottom line: Google has quietly resumed updates of its China mapping service in a bid to tap the booming local market for location-based services.

Google resumes China mapping updates

Are they or aren’t they? That’s the question going through everyone’s minds these days about Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) stealth return to China, following reports that the company has quietly re-launched its previously dormant mapping service in the market. In this case there are quite a few conflicting signals, including the one coming from Google itself, which says nothing has changed with its mapping service.

I was a bit surprised at Google’s definitive statement, since I can say with certainty that the company has indeed resumed updating its popular mapping service following a dormant period of at least a few years after shuttering its China-based search service in 2010. Last year there was similar word that Google’s map site had resumed service in China, and I went and checked the URL at the time. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Meituan Aims at Didi with Drive Into Car-Sharing

Bottom line: Meituan’s move into shared car services is likely to reignite a price war with incumbent Didi, and could be aimed at generating excitement ahead of a mega-IPO later this year. 

Meituan entering shared cars

Just days after reports emerged that car-sharing giant Didi Chuxing would pedal into the shared bike market, new reports are saying that group buying giant Meituan-Dianping is driving into Didi’s own shared car services space. These two stories underscore a theme that comes up time and again in the China tech world, whereby cash-rich companies often pile into hot and trendy sectors where they have little or no experience.

In this case the Meituan move has interesting implications because it could restart a fierce price war that was finally resolved last year when Didi merged with Uber China to take on its current form. Didi has pretty much owned the market since then, though it still faces some competition at various local levels. Now all that could change with the entry of Meituan, which should be flush with cash to launch yet a new round of price wars. Read Full Post…