Retail/Consumer

FINANCE: Ant Makes Case, No New Offer, for MoneyGram Buy

Bottom line: Ant Financial’s open letter to MoneyGram could hint at a new raised offer coming soon for the company, though rival suitor Euronet is likely to bid equally aggressively and has a slightly better chance of winning the contest.

Ant makes case to MoneyGram workers, US politicians

Three weeks after being surprised by an unsolicited counterbid for US money transferring specialist MoneyGram, China’s Ant Financial is finally speaking out on the matter beyond its initial reaction to the rival bid. The former financial unit of e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) frankly isn’t saying much about future plans in its open letter to the MoneyGram community, and there’s no hint on whether it will raise its offer for the US company.

Instead, the letter seems aimed at reassuring MoneyGram employees that their jobs will be safe, and on reassuring wary government officials that information on MoneyGram users won’t be recklessly used. Those messages look squarely aimed at quelling the very real possibility that such a deal could get vetoed by Washington on national security grounds, even though the jobs issue doesn’t really fall into that category. Read Full Post…

IPOs: Wuxi AppTech, Qihoo Move Towards China Listings

Bottom line: New signals from Qihoo and Wuxi AppTech show they may be getting preferential treatment for A-share listings, as the regulator shifts its policies to favor high-quality private firms for IPOs.

Wuxi AppTech eyes A-share listing

New signals coming from China’s stock regulator hint that it’s softening its stance towards letting companies formerly listed in the US jump the queue for re-listings at home. That appears to be the message, following a string of new reports saying first software security specialist Qihoo 360 and now drugmaker Wuxi AppTech are moving towards re-listings on the China A-share market, both within a relatively short period after leaving New York.

This latest development comes not long after SF Express (Shenzhen: 002352), China’s largest parcel delivery company, completed a backdoor listing in Shenzhen, which again shows the regulator might be easing its view on this kind of path to market. The broader theme here, and one that will be important for other private firms waiting to list in China, is that the securities regulator is finally realizing that it’s not always necessary to use a “first come first served” approach when choosing who gets to make IPOs. Read Full Post…

IPOs: Qudian Moves Toward Blockbuster NY Listing

Bottom line: Qudian’s IPO will get a moderately warm reception in New York, drawing interest due to its status as a major private fintech firm but also wariness owing to many uncertainties in the young sector.

Qudian moves closer to IPO

Anything involving movement of money has always been slightly problematic in China. Be it paying for things online, paying to play computer games, or even borrowing small sums to buy something like a smartphone, nothing has ever been easy for Chinese consumers. That’s mostly due to the creaky financial system they inherited when the country began its march into the modern era starting in the 1980s and ’90s.

That lack of services has been a godsend for a new generation of companies that are now making their way to market by supplying some of the many basic financial services that consumers crave. An IPO by one of the largest of those looks set to happen in the next 3 months, with word that microlender Qudian has made its first private filings for a New York listing to raise up to $1 billion. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Cranks Up the Anti-Piracy Pitch at NPC

Bottom line: Alibaba’s anti-piracy PR blitz during the National People’s Congress is aimed at getting attention during the high-profile event, but it will need to keep up its efforts to convince the public and officials its effort is sincere.

Alibaba calls for tougher anti-piracy laws

As the National People’s Congress (NPC) kicks into high gear in Beijing, e-commerce leader Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is using the annual session of China’s legislature as a soapbox to make its case that it’s being tough in the battle against piracy. In the last 2 weeks alone, founder Jack Ma has made two high-profile declarations on the subject, one equating the problem to the drunk driving menace and the other calling for his country to create tougher laws to fight the problem. Lest anyone think Alibaba is trying to pass the buck, the company has also announced it has filed a lawsuit against a maker of counterfeit pet food. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba, JD.com Step Up Supermarket Drive

Bottom line: Alibaba could buy the RT-Mart supermarket chain this year to boost its grocery business, while JD.com’s more online-focused effort and push into smaller cities looks like a better approach to the sector.

Alibaba grocer drives into Sun Art, JD goes to small cities

The online supermarket wars that began last year between e-commerce rivals Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and JD.com (Nasdaq: JD) are heating up in the Year of the Rooster, though the pair seem to be taking slightly different tacks, at least based on the latest headlines. Leading those are reports that Alibaba is in talks for a tie-up of some sort with Sun Art (HKEx: 6808), operator of the popular RT-Mart supermarket chain. Meantime, JD is making its own headlines in the space, with an executive detailing the company’s plans to achieve 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) in sales from its operation this year. Read Full Post…

ECOMMERCE: Wanda’s E-commerce Foray Running on Empty?

Bottom line: Wanda will continue to operate its ffan e-commerce site for another year, following the departure of its CEO, but could quietly end the initiative afterwards due to lack of synergies with its brick-and-mortar shopping malls.

Success evades Wanda in e-commerce

The headlines have been buzzing this week about the departure of the chief executive of the e-commerce unit Wanda Group, the real estate-turned-entertainment giant with a voracious appetite for global acquisitions. The big theme from the chatter is that the departure of Li Jinling, the unit’s third CEO in 3 years, marks a setback and possibly even presages a death knell for the Wanda initiative into the online shopping realm.

Wanda is speaking out on the subject, saying it never intended to launch a website that would compete directly with the likes of sector leaders Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and JD.com (Nasdaq: JD). Perhaps that’s true, though that didn’t stop Wanda and its ultra-confident chief Wang Jianlin from boasting of lofty ambitions when it signed up Internet titans Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) and Tencent (HKEx: 700) as partners to its ffan e-commerce site in 2014. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Baidu Tackles Profit-Challenged Nuomi, Takeout Dining

Bottom line: Baidu could soon make big cuts at Nuomi and sell or spin off the unit by year end, while it will also put its takeout dining unit on a strict diet that forces it to show a clear path to profitability by year end.

Nuomi set for haircut in 2017?

After years of hemorrhaging money from its newer online-to-offline (O2O) businesses, leading search engine Baidu (Nasdaq: BIUD) may finally be saying enough is enough. That seems to be the message coming from new reports that say the company has launched a campaign to improve performance at its massive businesses that combine real-world services like watching movies and buying restaurant food with web-based ordering systems.

The reports point to Baidu’s Nuomi group buying site as a particular center where the clean-up campaign has begun, but I also suspect a similar move may be taking place at its equally massive and money-losing takeout dining service. That pair of new businesses are massive cash-burners at Baidu, alongside the company’s iQiyi online video service and its Qunar (Nasdaq: QUNR) online travel agent. Read Full Post…

RETAIL: Yum China Looks Flat in Maiden Report

Bottom line: Yum China’s maiden quarterly report and $300 million share buyback program highlight a company that needs to move more aggressively and take more risks to regain its footing after being spun off from its US parent.

Yum China posts unimpressive maiden quarterly report
Yum China posts unimpressive maiden quarterly report

Fast food operator Yum China (NYSE: YUM) has just put out its maiden quarterly earnings report that looks decidedly ho-hum, including a somewhat surprising announcement of a $300 million share repurchase program. The operator of KFC and Pizza Hut stores in China was formally split off from its parent, Yum Brands (NYSE: YUM), late last year, following shareholder pressure to let the unit operate more independently in the somewhat unique and fast-changing Chinese market. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi Gets US Black Mark

Bottom line: Xiaomi’s poor handling of a case involving malfunctioning fitness bands in the US is unlikely to erupt into a crisis, but shows how unprepared the company is for moving into PR-savvy western markets.

Xiaomi wristband suffers from bad race relations in US

Smartphone maker Xiaomi just can’t seem to catch a break in the final days before the Lunar New Year. Earlier this week the company made headlines when Hugo Barra, its prized foreign catch who was heading its global expansion, announced he would be resigning and returning to his home in Silicon Valley. Now the latest negative headline is also coming from the US, where media are reporting that blacks are complaining that Xiaomi’s wristband-style fitness tracker doesn’t seem to work for people with dark skin.

It does seem somewhat coincidental that this pair of negative items have occurred in the same week, since Xiaomi has largely fallen from the top news pages these days. If we wanted to say that bad news comes in threes, I could even mention another more significant headline saying Xiaomi’s share of the global smartphone market fell to 3.7 percent last year from 5.2 in 2015. (press release) But that’s a story for another day. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Alibaba’s Koubei Raises Funds in Late Arrival to Take-Out Services

Bottom line: Alibaba’s Koubei is unlikely to gain major traction despite its $1.1 billion in new funding, due to its late arrival to a crowded O2O take-out dining space already dominated by Baidu, Ele.me and Meituan-Dianping.

Koubei raises $1.1 billion

The longer I stay in China, the more the latest stories coming from the Internet sector look like I’ve seen them before. That’s certainly the case with Koubei, the Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) online-to-offline (O2O) take-out dining delivery service, which is close to landing a fresh $1.1 billion in new funding. In this case, Alibaba’s extremely late arrival to the space looks a lot like its vain attempt to play catch-up to Tencent’s (HKEx: 700) WeChat with a service called Laiwang back in 2013. Read Full Post…

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…