Telecoms

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi Takes Big Step Into South Korea

Bottom line:  Xiaomi appears to be gaining confidence of investors through moves like its entry into South Korea, but it will take at least another year to prove it really has the savvy to thrive over the longer term.

Xiaomi calls on South Korea

Newly listed smartphone maker Xiaomi (HKEx: 1810) has kept the world guessing these past two weeks with its on-again-off-again performance both on the Hong Kong stock exchange and now in the real world. The former is a reference to its stock, which did quite poorly in the run-up to its trading debut last Monday but has done a U-turn since then and posted some impressive gains.

The latter is a reference to the company’s latest strategic move, which has it launching its low-end smartphones in South Korea. That may not sound like much, since the market is relatively small and Xiaomi already sells its products in more than 70 countries and regions globally. But the symbolic significance is quite large, since South Korea is home to leading global smartphone maker Samsung (Seoul: 005930). Read Full Post…

TRADE: Micron, China Mobile Muddy US-China Trade Tensions

Bottom line: A court order barring Micron Technology from China and Donald Trump’s attempts to keep China Mobile out of the US reflect blurring lines between business and politics in heightening US-China trade tensions.

Fujian court bars Micron sales in China

Two new headlines are showing how trade tensions between the US and China are spilling over into the high-tech realm, while also reflecting a certain amount of confusion and twisting of the facts. Leading the somewhat misleading headlines is an item that has U.S. memory chip giant Micron (Nasdaq: MU) suddenly being shut out of China for a number of its products due to a patent dispute. The other headline has Donald Trump saying that leading Chinese telco China Mobile (HKEx: 941; NYSE: CHL) shouldn’t be allowed to offer services in the US due to national security concerns.

The Micron story is being spun by some media as having a US-China trade tensions angle, when really that’s not the case and it’s just a typical patent dispute. The same could be said for the much larger case involving a US ban on telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063), which is being spun as part of US-China trade tensions, even though ZTE is being punished for violating much older US sanctions against sales to Iran. China Mobile, on the other hand, is clearly a Trump pet project and does reflect his protectionist tendencies. Read Full Post…

TELECOM: What’s Next After ZTE Resolution of ZTE Case

Bottom line: ZTE will experience fallout from its run-in with Washington through much of next year, and could see an even longer-term hit to its global business as international customers start to look for alternate suppliers.

ZTE off life support, but major challenges remain

The saga of embattled smartphone and telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 00006) appears to be nearing an end, as trading resumed in the company’s stock following an official settlement with Washington over  illegal sales to Iran. The ending to this story certainly came with a big climax, with ZTE shares plunging by 42 percent in Hong Kong on the first day after trading resumed.

They fell by a smaller 10 percent in China on Wednesday, but only because China places a 10 percent limit on daily rises and declines in individual stock prices. Not surprisingly, the stock was down another 10 percent in China on its second day of trade, while the Hong Kong shares did a dead cat bounce and were up slightly. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: China Mobile 4G Users Decline for First-Time

Bottom line: China Mobile’s first-ever drop in 4G subscribers in April owes to the company’s early arrival to the space, and reflects the broader market’s maturation that is also adding similar pressures to Unicom and China Telecom.

China Mobile 4G users takes first-ever dip

Much ado is being made about new data from the three big telcos that includes a first-ever drop in 4G subscribers for industry heavyweight China Mobile (HKEx: 941; NYSE: CHL). This particular first seems to have been a long time coming, and really shouldn’t surprise anyone too much. The fact of the matter is that China’s mobile market has been nearing saturation for a while, and the nation’s big 3 telcos have been increasingly stealing customers from each other for the last two or three years as the number of unserved users dwindles.

The bigger question raised by this data is what the slowdown could mean over the longer term, when China Mobile and smaller peers Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE: CHU) and China Telecom (HKEx: 728; NYSE: CHA) might see slow or negative growth in subscriber terms. The answer to that question is that this trio will be able to feast on their protected home market for many years to come, though they may be forced to innovate a bit more in order to get a tapped-out audience to keep paying more for services. Read Full Post…

CHIPS: Beijing Approves Microchip Deal, Boding Well for Qualcomm-NXP

Bottom line: China’s approval of a small US chip merger shows Beijing is actively reviewing such deals again after a brief pause to show its displeasure over US trade tensions, and bodes well for eventual approval of Qualcomm’s purchase of NXP.

China resumes consideration of global mergers

Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have thrown a number of major companies into turmoil, as the two sides spar over the former’s attempts to form a new, more balanced bilateral relationship. Telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763;  Shenzhen: 000063) has stolen a lot of the limelight in that regard, as the company’s earlier case involving illegal sales of US products to Iran gets sucked into the fray.

But lower-key on the ladder has been a form of passive aggressive behavior coming from Beijing, which had quietly halted reviews of major global M&A, most notably in the high-tech microchip space.  That behavior was costing time and frustration for several companies with pending deals, including Qualcomm’s (Nasdaq: QCOM) pending mega-purchase of Europe’s NXP (Nasdaq: NXPI). Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: First ZTE, Now Huawei Comes Under US Scrutiny

Bottom line: A US investigation of Huawei into possible illegal sales of US-made equipment to Iran is old news, and may be getting dredged up now to give Washington leverage in its ongoing trade frictions with China.

Huawei under microscope for potential illegal sales to Iran

Some might argue that US sanctions against telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) are just the prelude to a much bigger story that could now be sharping up, with word that ZTE’s much larger rival Huawei is being probed in a similar case. The subject at the heart of this matter involves sales of American-made equipment to Iran, which would have violated earlier US sanctions against such sales to pressure Iran to curtail its nuclear program.

In fact, I’m quite surprised that this probe against Huawei is coming back into the headlines just now. Media reported on this potential probe as early as 2013, at the same time reports first emerged about a similar probe into ZTE. Additional reports appeared about a year ago saying an unnamed company was being investigated for violations similar to ZTE, with strong hints that the company was Huawei. (previous post) Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: ZTE Slapped with US Sanctions — Again

Bottom line: Washington’s new ban on ZTE from buying US-made components is not as political as China is portraying it, and is likely to be resolved within a few weeks after ZTE takes remedial actions related to its violation of an earlier agreement.

Washington cuts off ZTE from US suppliers

An ongoing tiff between Washington and ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) is in the headlines yet again, with word that the US has banned all American companies from selling to the Chinese smartphone and telecoms equipment maker for seven years. This particular story is filled with political overtones due to the anti-China stance of Donald Trump, who has accused Beijing of unfair trade practices. But it’s also a tale that stretches back for at least six years, which means this story began well before the current US administration.

The latest headlines are quite straightforward, and have Washington banning the sale of US-made telecoms equipment to ZTE for violating an earlier agreement reached last year. (English article) The source of this conflict dates back to 2012, when Washington first began probing ZTE for selling American-made equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions that at that time were designed to punish the country for its nuclear program. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Foxconn Rises on Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi

Bottom line: Foxconn’s taking of the smartphone manufacturing crown from Samsung reflects the resurgence of Apple and rises of Huawei and Xiaomi, and could ultimately force other brands to use such third-party producers.

OEMs rise on smartphone manufacturing list

Today we’ll take a step back from the usual name-brand smartphone rankings to look at a new report that shows that Taiwan’s Foxconn (HKEx: 2038) is emerging as one of those “industry leaders you never heard of”, quietly supporting some of the fastest-growing names. That’s the big takeaway from the latest figures from data tracking firm IDC, which show that Foxconn officially passed global titan Samsung (Seoul: 005930) in last year’s final quarter to become the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer.

Most industry insiders already know Foxconn and its parent, Hon Hai, because of their longtime relationship as a key producer of iPhones for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). But the Taiwan company also counts Xiaomi as a major client, as that company experiences a resurgence in its fortunes after a couple of years in the dark. Foxconn also makes phones for Huawei, which is also doing quite well on the global smartphone scene at the moment. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Gionee Treads Water as China Smartphone Sales Plunge

Bottom line: Skidding sales in China’s oversaturated smartphone market are long overdue, and could claim Gionee as a first major victim by year-end.

China smartphone sales slide in Q1

The inevitable is finally happening, and China is showing signs of smartphone burnout. The latest government data is showing that first-quarter smartphone sales in China plunged 26 percent, which is one of the largest drops I can ever recall. In this case we can’t really blamed the usual seasonal effect, since this is a quarterly number that includes both January and February — the two months when Lunar New Year falls.

At the same time, separate reports are citing a top executive at second-tier smartphone maker Gionee shooting down rumors that his company may not pay some of its suppliers due to funding shortages. This comes just weeks after the company made mass layoffs at a major production facility in the southern city of Dongguan, and is one of the stronger signals of distress I’ve seen from China’s bumper crop of second-tier smartphone makers. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Huawei Feasts on China Market

Bottom line: Huawei’s strong revenue and profit growth for 2017 are coming largely on the back of its home China market, which should continue to boost the company as Beijing aggressively pushes upcoming 5G services.

Huawei finds land of plenty in hometown market

Telecoms giant Huawei is in the headlines as the new week begins, with word that the company has rekindled its profit growth in its latest reporting year. Unlike other companies, Huawei isn’t publicly traded and thus isn’t required to release any financials, which always means we need to take their numbers with a slight grain of salt. But generally speaking the company does seem to be trying to report meaningful figures, at least based on past years when the results weren’t all that flattering.

This time around the results look good, at least the final ones for revenue and profit growth. But a closer look shows something that many of us know, namely that the company is heavily dependent on its home market for that relatively strong showing. Some of that is probably deserved, as Huawei has emerged as a maker of quality products for both its core networking equipment and also its newer smartphones, which count myself as one of their fans and owners. Read Full Post…

STOCKS: Lenovo, China Telecom Mull CDR Homecomings

Bottom line:  Hong Kong-listed “Red chip” stocks like Lenovo and China Telecom could eventually make secondary listings in China under a new CDR program, but will be forced to wait behind higher-profile Internet names like Alibaba.

‘Red chips’ eye China listings under CDR program

With all of the major IPOs for the week now in the history books, as most of the world takes a vacation for Good Friday, I thought I’d close out the week here in China with yet another angle on the China Depositary Receipt (CDR) program that is creating lots of buzz. Regular readers will know this is a reference to China’s planned take on the popular American Depositary Receipt (ADR) program that lets companies with a primary listing in one market make secondary listings in another one.

Lots has been written these last couple of weeks about how the CDR program could let U.S.- and Hong Kong-listed tech giants like Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and Tencent (HKEx: 700) make new secondary listings in China, which they couldn’t do before. But today we’re getting the first few peeps about similar homecomings from top executives of a group of Hong Kong-listed companies known as “red chips”, which are major Chinese firms that are currently barred from listing at home. Read Full Post…