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…

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi Wins India, Makes First Visit to Top Trade Show

Bottom line: Xiaomi’s taking of the India smartphone crown and attendance at a major trade show next week are aimed at boosting its profile in the run-up to its IPO. 

Xiaomi to attend MWC

Hype is building in the run-up to what’s likely to be one of the largest high-tech IPOs this year, with word that smartphone maker Xiaomi has snatched the India crown from a fading Samsung (Seoul: 005930) and is also making its first visit to the world’s top telecoms trade show next week. Both events are important milestones for a resurgent Xiaomi, as it attempts to boost its profile for a public listing that’s likely to raise in the neighborhood of $10 billion in Hong Kong.

At the same time, the list of attendees for this year’s Mobile World Congress taking place next week in Spain is also notable for a number of brands that have purchased booths in the past but aren’t doing so this year.  Leading that list is Oppo, which briefly took the China smartphone crown last year from current leader Huawei.  Also absent from the list are past attendees including Meizu and Gionee. That probably speaks to the fact that some of these brands are feeling the squeeze of prolonged competition in the space, and are choosing to spend their limited marketing budgets elsewhere. 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…

TELECOMS: Spurned by US, Huawei Turns to UK

Bottom line: Huawei’s latest big financial commitment to the UK is mostly for show, but Britain could still emerge as a winner over the longer term if Huawei conducts more R&D work in its British labs.

Huawei gives $4.2 billion gift to UK

After getting the cold shoulder from the US for its smartphones, telecoms superstar Huawei is turning increasingly to Europe, and specifically to Britain, for consolation. That’s the key takeaway from the latest reports that say Huawei has told British Prime Minister Theresa May that it will spend a further 3 billion pounds ($4.2 billion) on procurement from the UK on top of its other commitments to the country. (English article)

This particular move seems mostly political, and also it’s questionable how significant it is. Huawei made its commitment last week during a trip by Theresa May to China, and this kind of mega-commitment is quite common during these meetings between Chinese and global leaders. The fact of the matter is that Huawei posted 600 billion yuan ($97 billion) in sales last year, meaning it had to spend perhaps half of that amount, or around $50 billion, on procurement of various components for its core networking equipment and smartphones. 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: 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: 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…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba’s New Retail Goes on Steroids with Grocery Plan

Bottom line: Alibaba’s plan to roll out 2,000 of its high-tech Hema grocery stores looks overly aggressive but typical for the company, and could prove costly if the concept fails to catch on.

Alibaba has big plans for Hema

E-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is pretty much a carbon copy of its founder Jack Ma when it comes to standing still, in that the concept is completely foreign to both. I’ve been critical of the company in the past for getting into too many things too quickly without a coherent big-picture plan, and that’s what seems to be happening once more with Alibaba’s sudden obsession with finding a formula for the “new retail”.

Alibaba seems quite certain that retailing of the future will consist of some form of high-tech features, alongside traditional retailing concepts such as stores where actual products are sold and people can sit down for a fresh-cooked meal. Alibaba has been wheeling out a number of concepts on this new high-tech retail puzzle over the past year, but the latest plan is the first I’ve seen for an actual widespread roll-out of an actual chain. Read Full Post…

BUYOUTS: eHi Prepares to Drive Off, Jumei Bid Unravels

Bottom line: A third-party buyout offer for eHi could presage a wave of similar new bids for undervalued, profitable Chinese companies, while withdrawal of Jumei’s buyout bid could be followed by a new, lower offer.

eHi gets buyout offer

After a period of relative quiet, the privatization wave that swept US-listed Chinese companies nearly two years ago is bubbling back into the headlines with a couple of stories from different directions. In the “leaving” direction there’s car rental comp eHi Car Services (NYSE: EHIC), which has received a third-party offer to privatize for a slight premium to its latest stock price. In the other direction there’s cosmetics e-commerce firm Jumei International (NYSE: JMEI), which is finally withdrawing its management-led buyout offer nearly two years after first receiving the bid.

There’s no broader theme to these two deals, except perhaps that investors have become quite skeptical about such offers. The Jumei deal’s collapse shows why such skepticism is sometimes merited, though it’s also worth pointing out that about two-thirds of US-listed companies that announced plans to privatize during the wave in early 2015 actually completed those plans. Lackluster response to the eHi deal also shows a certain skepticism, probably because shareholders are still worried that many of these buyout bids are low-balling companies’ real values. Read Full Post…

RETAIL: Alibaba Boosts Grocery Rush with Sun Art Investment

Bottom line: Alibaba’s new investment in grocery operator Sun Art looks like a shrewd move into an area where logical synergies between online and offline shopping can be achieved.

Alibaba buys into Sun Art

After a period of relative quiet, e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is splashing back into the major M&A headlines with its purchase of a major stake in grocery retailer Sun Art (HK: 6808) for HK$22.4 billion ($2.9 billion). This particular deal looks strikingly similar to an earlier tie-up between Alibaba’s archrival (Nasdaq: JD), which is joining online and offline grocery carts through its own older tie-up with Walmart (NYSE: WMT).

Each of these plays looks relatively savvy, acknowledging that off-line shopping will continue to play a major role in the retail experience for certain products. Alibaba has embraced this online-offline approach with a vengeance over the past year, snapping up a series of existing retail chains and also rolling out its own concept convenience store that is completely automated. Read Full Post…