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: Lenovo Starts Rebuilding Year with Samsung Poach

Bottom line: Lenovo could reverse its smartphone decline this year under a new leadership team anchored by a respected company veteran, though chances of success are relatively low due to stiff competition and magnitude of the task.

Lenovo nets former Samsung smartphone exec

My first post in the new lunar Year of the Rooster seems like a good time to look at the ultra-competitive smartphone market, and what may lie ahead for the embattled Lenovo (HKEx: 992) as it seeks to regain its footing in the space. CEO Yang Yuanqing has made repeated overhauls of his mobile devices division, including the naming of longtime executive Gina Qiao to try and turn the division around late last yaer. Now the latest reports are saying that Qiao has made one of her first big moves in that post by hiring an executive from rival producer Samsung (Seoul: 005930). 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…

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi’s Foreign Prize Barra Heads for Home

Bottom line: The departure of former Google executive Hugo Barra from Xiaomi marks the end of a chapter for the smartphone maker, which stands only a 50-50 chance of surviving over the next 5 years in the cutthroat market.

Xiaomi’s Barra heads back to US

The world was all abuzz in 2013 when Hugo Barra suddenly gave up his cozy position as a high executive at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to join a then-little-known Chinese smartphone maker called Xiaomi. Gossip swirled that his departure might be linked to a high-powered love triangle, even though the more obvious explanation was that Barra was leaving to join one of the hottest companies in the world’s hottest emerging market.

Fast forward to the present, where Barra has just announced his resignation from Xiaomi, citing health reasons, among other things. Lots was read into Barra’s original move, so it seems appropriate that we look for similar symbolism in his sudden departure after just over 3 years on the job. We should also look at what the future holds for Xiaomi, whose star has faded considerably since Barra first joined the company. Read Full Post…

FINANCE: IDG China Affiliate Roars with US Parent Buy

Bottom line: IDG Capital is likely to buy out the venture funding business of US affiliate IDG in the next year, setting the stage for the emergence of China’s first global venture capital firm.

IDG Capital roars with purchase of US parent

A sort of “mouse that roared” story is in the headlines today, with word that US tech finance and information giant International Data Group (IDG) has been bought out by its China affiliate. The China affiliate, IDG Capital, is actually teaming up with another major local partner, China Oceanwide Holdings, to purchase Boston-based IDG, whose assets include the well-respected market research firm International Data Corp (IDC), as well as PCWorld Magazine. 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…

SMARTPHONES: Huawei Meets 2016 Goals, Xiaomi Looks to 2017

Bottom line: Xiaomi could return to growth mode in China this year on the strength of stronger models, while Huawei’s local market share will contract as it focuses on profitable sales and backs away from money-losing businesses.

Huawei meets reduced smartphone target

Two of China’s former smartphone leaders are in the headlines going into the weekend, casting a spotlight on the difficulties these past high-flyers face after becoming king of the world’s biggest market. In one story the faded Xiaomi is saying the worst is behind it, and the company is aiming for a relatively ambitious 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) in sales this year.

In the other, the still-buoyant Huawei is announcing its smartphone sales rose an impressive 29 percent last year. But that figure is still below its earlier target, and also is being revealed just a week after the company said it was abandoning its older model of growth at any cost. Accordingly, I expect we’ll see sharply slower growth this year for Huawei in China, as it looks for profitable gains over simply getting more market share. Read Full Post…

CHIPS: Seagate Tries Less Production, More Tech Sharing in China Retrench

Bottom line: Seagate’s closure of its Suzhou factory, combined with its earlier formation of a Chinese technology-sharing joint venture, reflect the changing approach away from local manufacturing that western tech firms are taking towards China.

Seagate closes Suzhou factory

New reports are saying that hard disk drive maker Seagate (NYSE: STX) is closing down a factory in the eastern city of Suzhou, as part of a restructuring plan to revive its operations. Such a development isn’t huge news, since the global semiconductor sector is undergoing a major consolidation.

But this particular closure also comes just months after Seagate announced a new tie-up with Chinese partner Sugon to tap the local market for IT products and services. So the bigger question becomes: What’s the meaning of this factory closure and the newer joint venture, and what’s the outlook for semiconductor and high-tech equipment manufacturing in China? Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Gets Alter Ego with Yahoo-Turned-Altaba

Bottom line: Alibaba will closely watch the performance of the newly minted Altaba over the next 1-2 years, and could make a privatization bid with Softbank if it feels the company is undermining its own stock.

Yahoo to morph into Altaba

Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) co-founder Jerry Yang never would have dreamed a decade ago that the ground-breaking search engine he co-founded might someday morph into a Chinese e-commerce company called Alibaba (NYSE: BABA). But that’s pretty much what has just happened, with official word from Yang’s former baby that it will change its name to Altaba following the pending sale of its core Internet business. Read Full Post…

E-COMMERCE: Alibaba Finds Friend in Trump, Quagmire in Intime

Bottom line: A meeting between Jack Ma and Donald Trump is a major coup for Alibaba and bodes well for its US relations, while a privatization plan for its partly owned Intime Retail reflects its spottier record for strategic investments.

Jack Ma scores Donald Trump meeting

E-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) is wasting no time making big headlines in the New Year, starting with a major coup that has seen founder Jack Ma become the first big Chinese business leader to score a meeting with incoming US president Donald Trump. At the same time, the company is also suffering a much smaller defeat back at home, with word that Alibaba will help to privatize Intime Retail (HKEx: 1833), after becoming a major shareholder in the brick-and-mortar retailer nearly 3 years ago.  Read Full Post…