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By DealStreetAsia / Jan 19, 2021 01:35 PM / World

Malaysia-based private equity firm Navis Capital Partners on Monday announced that it has completed an investment in Singapore-headquartered fintech solutions firm Moneythor Pte Ltd. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2013, Moneythor provides financial institutions and fintech firms with solutions to enhance digital banking services.

“Moneythor’s solutions synthesising insights through artificial intelligence and machine learning help make digital financial services more relevant, more personal and insightful for customers thereby creating incredible value and customer experiences,” Navis partner Rajendra Pai said in a statement.

Navis was advised by PwC and Ashurst on the deal.

Moneythor, which has a presence in London, Paris, and Tokyo, will work closely with a Navis portfolio firm DZ Card, a Thai smart card solution and payment security system provider. Navis expects Moneythor and DZ Card to offer a wider suite of product and service offerings to customers in the financial service sector.

Navis’s investment comes at a time when the digital banking space is seeing a lot of activity in the Southeast Asian region.

Last month, the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced that it will award digital full bank licences to the Grab-Singtel consortium and tech giant Sea and wholesale bank licences to Ant Group and a consortium comprising Greenland Financial Holdings, Linklogis Hong Kong and Beijing Co-operative Equity Investment Fund Management.

Malaysia too has issued a policy document on the licensing framework for digital banks. The country’s central bank has said up to five licences may be issued to qualified applicants.

Navis manages approximately $5 billion in public and private equity capital and focuses on investments primarily in and around Asia. Last week, TES, a Navis-backed e-waste recycling service in Singapore, announced that Japan-based Sojitz Corporation has acquired a minority stake in TES-AMM JAPAN K.K.

In August last year, DealStreetAsia reported that Navis, which is in the process of raising its eighth fund, is said to have extended the fundraising to April. The firm is seeking up to $1.9 billion for Navis VIII.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Securities Watchdog Builds Up List of Fintech Providers as Supervision Tightens


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By DealStreetAsia / Jan 18, 2021 03:11 PM / World

Danish pension scheme Paedagogernes Pension (PBU) has become the cornerstone investor in the official launch and first close of the Southeast Asia-focused SEAF Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund (SWEEF), according to an announcement.

PBU, the occupational pension scheme for early childhood teachers and youth educators, said it committed 100 million Danish krone ($16.2 million) in SWEEF, which has a women-centered, Southeast Asia-focused investment strategy primarily in Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

SEAF, a global impact investment fund manager, will manage SWEEF. SEAF said it was able to launch the fund with financial support from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the regional development arm of the UN, and Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

The fund follows the success of the SEAF Women’s Opportunity Fund (SWOF), which has invested in six women-led and/or women-owned businesses in Southeast Asia, including Ellana Cosmetics, a Philippine-based cosmetics startup.

Globally, SEAF has invested in over 400 companies in 29 countries.

SWEEF will invest in women entrepreneurs as well as businesses operating in sectors where women comprise a large portion of the labor force and those where the leadership demonstrates a strong commitment to gender equality and wider diversity.

“The investment into SWEEF has a clear link to our strategy for responsible investments, where we focus on empowering women and strengthening gender equality,” said PBU CEO Sune Schackenfeldt.

The $18-billion Danish pension fund is already a significant investor in microfinance and financial inclusion in a European context, where the main target group was also women.

“Women in developing countries are the foundation of the family. With investments that have a special focus on women’s conditions, we strengthen their employment, earnings, and opportunities for social and economic advancement,” Schackenfeldt added.

SEAF said SWEEF’s social focus investment is closely linked to the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

In August last year, SEAF made its second investment in the Philippines in CloudCfo, a technology-driven provider of outsourced accounting, bookkeeping, and financial services for startups.

SEAF invested in CloudCfo through its SEAF Women’s Opportunity Fund. Its first investment in the Philippines was in Ellana Cosmetics in March.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Female Innovators and Social Responsibility (Video)


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By Ding Yi / Jan 15, 2021 05:06 PM / World

iQiyi said on Thursday that its original computer generated animated series “Deer Squad” will premiere on the child-focused television channel Nickelodeon in the U.S. on January 25, the latest sign that the Chinese online video giant is trying to reach global audiences.

The animation series, co-produced by iQiyi, Nickelodeon International and VIS Kids, a division of ViacomCBS International Studios, follows four heroic deer that protect those living in their woodland home.

“Deer Squad” was first streamed on the iQiyi platform in July 2020, proving to be a big hit, and was later aired on Nickelodeon in several countries including the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand with good viewership performance. The show is expected to land in European and African markets in March this year, according to iQiyi.

Baidu-backed iQiyi is stepping up efforts to expand its footprint globally, with a focus on Southeast Asia, where it is in the process of establishing local offices in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The Beijing-based firm aims to have as many as half of its paying subscribers from foreign countries within five years.

In June last year, Nasdaq-listed iQiyi hired former Netflix executive Kuek Yu-Chuang to oversee its overseas business expansion.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: IQiyi VR Arm Raises Cash for Hardware, Content in Latest Funding Round


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By Anniek Bao / Jan 14, 2021 02:13 PM / World

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TCL Electronics Holdings, the world’s third-largest TV supplier by shipments, denied a report that it has withdrawn from the North American market and claimed the absence of its products on US store shelves was due to “stronger-than-ever demand” and them flying off the shelves.

The Chinese electronics maker said in a statement Tuesday it has “no plans” to withdraw from North American markets or other markets, claiming that red hot demand in the region had led to some offline retailers temporarily running out of stock.

The statement came after South Korean media outlet Money Today reported last week that TCL-branded TVs had been removed from shelves in major U.S. stores, which was expected to benefit its South Korean rivals Samsung and LG Electronics. TCL said this was “factually wrong and untrue”.

As the pandemic cripples manufacturing activities worldwide, some analysts have suggested the TV-maker is running low on panel supplies, which has delayed regular shipments.

Read the full story here.

Contact reporter Anniek Bao (yunxinbao@caixin.com) and editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)


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By Heather Mowbray / Jan 04, 2021 06:13 PM / World

Did telecoms giant Ericsson put pressure on Swedish lawmakers to sway the decision over Huawei being excluded from the country’s 5G network? That is the latest allegation being reported by Bloomberg.

Ericsson’s Chief Executive Officer Borje Ekholm reportedly asked the Swedish minister responsible for foreign trade to step in and influence a tussle between the courts and Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) in Huawei’s favour.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Ekholm contacted Minister Anna Hallberg by text message following a ruling by the PTS on Oct. 20 requiring operators to remove Huawei from 5G infrastructure by January 2025. Hallberg said she had neither contacted the PTS nor met Ekholm.

In November, Borje Ekholm had said the ban threatened to delay the rollout of the new technology and stifle competition. Ericsson earns 10% of its revenue from business with China.

Although Huawei has been instrumental in developing Sweden’s telecommunications infrastructure, following Swedish security legislation enacted at the beginning of 2020, a year-long debate over its role in the country has played out between telecoms firms, the courts and the authorities.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Q&A: Huawei’s Man in Sweden Talks Tech Bans and Free Competition


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Timmy Shen and Zhai Shaohui / Dec 22, 2020 06:40 PM / World

China pledged to take countermeasures after the U.S. imposed sanctions on domestic chipmaking leader SMIC and global drone giant DJI, among others, as security and trade tensions between the two countries continue their downward spiral.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said the U.S. had “generalized national security and abused export controls to suppress other countries’ enterprises, institutions and individuals,” severely damaging international economic order, free trade rules and the security of global supply chains.

Beijing’s response came after the U.S. on Friday added around 60 Chinese firms to the entity list for “actions deemed contrary to the national security or foreign policy interest of the United States,” according to a U.S. Department of Commerce statement.

Read the full story here.

Contact reporter Timmy Shen (hongmingshen@caixin.com) and editor Heather Mowbray (heathermowbray@caixin.com)


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By DealStreetAsia / Dec 21, 2020 04:06 PM / World

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Since Indonesia’s unicorns started flirting with the idea of an initial public offering (IPO) some three years ago, e-commerce marketplace Tokopedia has, arguably, been the most zealous about executing the listing plan.

Earlier this year, the company admitted that it had made elaborate preparations for an IPO, with plans to go public in three years. These plans may now be expedited as the e-commerce major has reportedly received acquisition interest from Bridgetown Holdings, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Richard Li and Peter Thiel, Bloomberg first reported last week.

In doing so, Tokopedia may inspire fellow Indonesian unicorns to follow suit.

“In my opinion, this may spur other unicorns to continue to grow and consider this route [SPAC route] to IPO,” said Alvin Suryohadiprojo, founding partner at corporate law firm Karna Partnership.

A SPAC, also called a blank cheque firm, is a listed company without any business operations, formed only to raise capital to acquire privately-held businesses. The SPAC then paves the way for the acquired company to become a listed entity through a back-door IPO of sorts.

Bridgetown raised $550 million in a Nasdaq initial public offering in October this year to target acquisition in “technology, financial services or media sectors in Southeast Asia.”

Why the SPAC route?

A potential acquisition of Tokopedia will effectively see the Indonesian unicorn take the SPAC’s spot on Nasdaq. Tokopedia has since said that the SPAC route to listing is a potential option for the company but it is yet to commit to anything.

Experts have pointed out that by dealing and negotiating with only one single investor, as opposed to embarking on a long IPO roadshow, companies merging with SPACs get a significant shortcut to a bourse listing. They are also able to bypass a number of stringent requirements of a traditional IPO and sell growth projections to investors, as opposed to profit figures.

In the US, there has been a surge in SPAC deals in the past year.

Electric car company Fisker listed on the NYSE in October through a SPAC despite not yet generating any revenue. It, however, projected revenues of $13.2 billion in 2025. Electric truck maker Nikola, meanwhile, also went public via a SPAC this year on the back of annual revenues of less than $500,000.

Some industry observers have reasoned that the high number of SPAC listings this year — 242 IPOs as of December according to SPACInsider — may be partly due to the impact of COVID-19 which has made IPO roadshows difficult to carry out for companies.

Tokopedia — like its Indonesian unicorn peers including Gojek, Bukalapak, and Traveloka— is yet to turn a profit. While it has not disclosed financial figures this year, last year it announced that its gross merchandise value (GMV) reached Rp73 trillion ($5.1 billion) in 2018 and is expected to end 2019 with Rp222 trillion ($15.6 billion) GMV.

Bridgetown’s US listing may also be a draw for Tokopedia, whose president Patrick Cao has said that the company will “most likely” choose the US as a second listing avenue, together with the Indonesian bourse IDX, which will “definitely” be its primary stock exchange.

“If you want to go for the international investor profile, plus technology expertise and depth in terms of capital, then US [is the best market]. Considering our peer group Alibaba, Amazon, etc., are all listed [in] the US,” Cao told Nikkei Asia in January.

According to Karna’s Suryohadiprojo, by listing through a SPAC, Tokopedia would also be able to side-step another stumbling block that is understood to be one of the main factors keeping unicorns away from a public listing: Indonesia Stock Exchange’s (IDX) restrictions on dual-class share structure.

Under this structure, there is more than one type of share ownership, each with different voting rights and dividend payments. This structure is popular among tech startups — Alphabet, Facebook and Snapchat to name a few— because it allows founders, executives, and early investors to retain control over important decisions.

While the restriction on dual-class share structure is applied by the IDX for companies on its bourse, Indonesian companies will not be exempted from local regulations even if they choose a foreign exchange as a primary market. However, a SPAC deal could free Tokopedia’s shareholders from the rule.

“If 99.9 per cent of the company is owned by a US-listed SPAC, the share movement would be at the SPAC level, not Tokopedia level. So they would adhere to NYSE regulation, which is more flexible,” Suryohadiprojo said.

He believes there are no legal restraints or hurdles that would stop Tokopedia from carrying out a SPAC deal should it wish to, as such a transaction is in essence no different to any other acquisition deal for the company. Much of the burden in terms of cost, risk, and taxes, would be borne by the SPAC, Suryohadiprojo explained.

He said that listing in the US would present a better capital market for Tokopedia to absorb its high valuation, and the company can take heart from the interest generated by a US-listed SPAC. “If the public absorbs the SPAC’s shares, that means they are also interested in Tokopedia itself,” he added.

There is no denying that over the past year, Indonesian unicorns have seen rising investment interest from the US. This year, three of Indonesia’s unicorns raised sizeable funding from US strategics — ride-hailing firm Gojek raised funds from PayPal and Facebook; marketplace platform Bukalapak from Microsoft; and Tokopedia itself raised capital from Google. Meanwhile, travel platform Traveloka is backed by its US-based peer Expedia.

All four Indonesian unicorns have said that they are exploring dual listing as an IPO option.

Challenges?

However, mounting attention from US firms may not necessarily be representative of the whole investor community, which could present a problem for Indonesian companies after they have listed on a US bourse.

“If you look at Sea Group when they first listed in the US, you realised that there are not many investors in the US that were familiar with the Southeast Asian market. And Tokopedia is only focused on the Indonesian market,” said Aldi Adrian Hartanto, VP of investment at Indonesia’s MDI Ventures.

Hartanto’s VC firm, which took one portfolio IPO last year, is the venture capital arm of Telkom Indonesia, a state-owned telco firm, one of only two local companies that have successfully pulled off a dual listing. He explained that being a listed company requires lengthy administrative preparation and compliance that needs to be fulfilled, which could serve as a potential challenge for a company taking a shortcut to IPO.

In Southeast Asia, only one tech company has listed in the US through a SPAC merger — and it does not have a great story to tell. Reebonz, a Singapore-based luxury online marketplace, saw its shares steadily decline after its SPAC-assisted listing on Nasdaq in December 2018. In July this year, it was delisted from the bourse after failing to meet the minimum share price requirement of $1 for more than 30 days.

Turning to the US market does not offer much consolation either. According to US research and investment management firm Renaissance Capital, of the 93 SPACs that have completed mergers and taken a company public since 2015 in the US, common shares have delivered an average loss of -9.6 per cent and a median return of -29.1 per cent, compared to the average aftermarket return of 47.1 per cent for traditional IPOs since 2015.

“I think the market will wait and see how it goes with Tokopedia. If it is a success, maybe IPOs through SPAC will start to boom in 2022,” he said.

E-commerce battle to heat up

As for Tokopedia, it says it has not decided on anything as yet and is still “considering its options”, with regard to the listing market and method. However, Tokopedia seems to have made an IPO a near-term priority, having officially appointed Morgan Stanley and CITI as advisors.

The desire to pursue an IPO sooner, rather than later, maybe brought about by the rise of Sea Group’s Shopee in Indonesia. The Singapore-based company has jumped to the top of the e-commerce leaderboard in the country, having benefited greatly from the capital firepower of its parent company, which publicly-listed on NYSE.

Willson Cuaca, an investor in Tokopedia through his VC firm East Ventures, believes that access to the capital market is one of the capabilities that Indonesian startups need to develop in order to grow in an increasingly competitive era.

“This has been one of the competitive advantages that help foreign players grow their business in Indonesia. So whether via traditional IPO or SPAC, the company should decide what makes sense to itself and its shareholders,” said Cuaca.

While Indonesia is home to numerous players in the e-commerce space in Indonesia — all looking to tap into a market worth $21 billion in gross market value (GMV) in 2019 — many believe that the e-commerce game has boiled down to a two-horse race between Shopee and Tokopedia.

CEO of e-commerce enabler PowerCommerce Asia, Hadi Kuncoro, whose company works with different online marketplaces in the country, believes that capital will be key in determining the winners in e-commerce. Tokopedia has been the largest-funded private player in the market, but tapping the public market will lift it to a different level.

“With an IPO, Tokopedia will be able to gain awareness and third-party funding, it will also have a more healthy corporate governance, which will be an additional strength in the battle against Shopee,” he said.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Indonesia’s Unicorns Lure U.S. Tech Giants From Google to Facebook


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By Nikkei Asian Review / Dec 21, 2020 01:26 PM / World

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A Kuala Lumpur-based e-commerce startup is knocking on the doors of Southeast Asia’s “superapp” providers in a bid to make itself part of tens of millions of mobile users’ everyday lives.

iPrice Group, a cost-comparison platform that disclosed financial backing of $10 million from its Series B fundraiser earlier this year, is using its resources to chase partnerships with the superapps via an online shopping vertical, co-founder and Executive Vice Chairman David Chmelar told Nikkei Asia in an interview.

The term “superapp” is often used to refer to two of Southeast Asia’s largest unicorns, Singapore-based Grab and Indonesian rival Gojek, both of which are known for their ride-hailing services but also offer food deliveries, payments and a wide assortment of other services.

“For them,” Chmelar said, “we could serve as a great additional source of income. … What they are facing is that their app ecosystem is not engaging enough.”

iPrice has been backed by ACA Investments, a Singapore-based Japanese private equity fund, and Line Ventures — the venture arm of Japan’s Line Corporation, provider of the Line mobile messaging platform that itself is transforming into a superapp to meet the diverse needs of smartphone users.

Line Ventures had led an iPrice fundraising round in 2018, anteing $4 million, Chmelar told Nikkei, with iPrice having drawn another $5 million from other investors. Daiwa PI Partners and Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund were also involved in this year’s Series B round, which opened a $19 million war chest to the Malaysian startup.

South Korean IT company Naver, a parent company of Line, has agreed with SoftBank Group’s Z Holdings to merge Yahoo Japan and Line.

Hajime Adachi, a principal at ACA Investments, told Nikkei that iPrice’s strength lies in a unique aggregator role that gives it an ability to coexist with Southeast Asia’s online shopping portals on a common platform, instead of having an exclusive partnership with one player at the expense of another.

He said this offers superapp providers a valuable business proposition — the opportunity to easily spin off a moneymaking arm through an e-commerce function. “Once [the superapps] choose one e-commerce player as their partner,” Adachi said, “they will lose others.

But if they choose iPrice, they will not lose any e-commerce platforms because iPrice covers everyone.”

Online shopping has been on a hot streak this year, with the pandemic and responses to it acting as growth accelerants across Southeast Asia.

According to a November report by internet giant Google, Singapore state investor Temasek and U.S. consultancy Bain & Company, e-commerce has emerged as the largest vertical, growing 63% to reach $62 billion in 2020. It is expected to continue the trajectory to hit $172 billion by 2025, the report says.

According to iPrice, its platforms have experienced 60% increases in traffic since social distancing measures were put in place across Southeast Asia.

Founded in 2014, the startup says it tracks about 1.5 billion products at more than 1,500 merchant partners across Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong — offering consumers e-commerce deals in categories like electronics, fashion, toys, automotive, and health and beauty.

Last year, the iPrice platform facilitated 5 million transactions, the company said, adding that it now has more than 20 million monthly visitors. It partners with Southeast Asia’s major e-commerce names, including Zalora, Shopee and Lazada.

Chmelar said partnerships with the superapps would bring about win-win scenarios. His startup would be able to access massive user bases, while the superbrands would be able to tap Southeast Asia’s lucrative e-commerce market.

Grab and Gojek have come under increasing pressure to demonstrate a clear path to profitability following rounds of blockbuster fundraising. Since last year’s debacle at WeWork, the shared office space provider, investors now give much closer scrutiny to startups’ business models.

Chmelar declined to comment on whether his company has held potential partnership talks with Grab or Gojek, citing nondisclosure agreements.

“A couple of years down the road, well, we want to be in every of those [superapp] ecosystems, providing the e-commerce solution,” the co-founder said. iPrice during the first quarter of this year worked behind the scenes to lobby for the superapps to include online shopping as a key function.

Grab and Gojek might have other immediate priorities.

Grab and its partner Singtel this month snagged a digital banking license in Singapore and will be focusing on kick-starting its virtual bank.

In addition, the market grapevine is heating up with talk of a Grab-Gojek merger.

Hirofumi Imamura, director at Daiwa PI Partners, cited an understanding of consumer behavior in Southeast Asia as iPrice’s strength, should the superapp providers be open to collaboration. “iPrice has the potential to become the biggest e-commerce aggregator in the entire Asian continent,” Imamura noted. “It has been expanding its service with superapps like Line.”

The Malaysian upstart’s infusion into Line’s platform began last year, with Line’s Indonesian users able to access a shopping tab to browse a marketplace powered by iPrice.

iPrice gets a cut of proceeds for purchases made through its portal.

Chmelar said that if the other superapps were to introduce an e-commerce vertical similar to what Line has done, iPrice would share its slice of the proceeds it collects from online sales with them. “This is not an idea on paper,” he said. “This is not visionary thinking. This is a real thing which is up and running [with Line], and we can scale it up to other ecosystems.”

According to the company, its price comparison unit accounted for 50% of revenue, operating at a 30% EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) margin. iPrice has a goal of making its other units, including one that provides product catalogs to superapps and another that deals coupons to online media customers, similarly profitable in the next two or three years.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Alibaba Subsidiary Cainiao Pushes Into Malaysia With Cross-Border Delivery Service


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By Anniek Bao / Dec 21, 2020 01:06 PM / World

TikTok concluded its first livestreamed e-commerce sales session featuring U.S. retail giant Walmart on Friday night, with up to 20,000 viewers watching the one- hour show.

The TikTok-Walmart partnership comes after the Beijing-based owner ByteDance agreed in September to sell a stake in TikTok to Walmart Inc. and Oracle Corp.

The Walmart tie-up represents one of the global video company’s first experiments with e-commerce livestreaming outside China. TikTok’s Chinese equivalent Douyin ranks second behind Alibaba’s livestream site Taobao Live in the domestic market.

The competition over live-streaming e-commerce in the U.S. looks set to become heated as Amazon and Facebook have also rolled out e-commerce features, trying to capitalize on consumers cooped up at home during the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)


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By Ding Yi / Dec 18, 2020 02:30 PM / World

Xiaomi’s dominance in the Indian smartphone market seems insurmountable, largely helped by its efforts to expand its online sales network in the country.

In October, the Chinese electronics giant best known for smartphones and web-enabled appliances continued to lead the Indian market, with its smartphone shipments there climbing to 5.5 million units, giving the company a market share of 24.8%, according to a report by research firm IDC.

Overall, a total of 21 million smartphones were sold in India during the month, up 42% year-on-year, about half of which were sold through online platforms, which grew 53% compared to a year ago. Offline sales channels, especially in smaller towns and cities, also saw a healthy year-on-year increase of 33%.

In terms of online sales channel deployment, Xiaomi led in 34 of the major 50 cities, which accounted for about 55% of India’s total monthly purchases. Meanwhile, Xiaomi was the leading brand in 30 of the major 50 cities in the sub-$200 segment, which accounted for 68% of smartphones sold in October.

Xiaomi was followed by Samsung, Vivo, Realme and Oppo, which held respective market shares of 20.6%, 17.8%, 13.8% and 12.3%. Of the top five, Realme enjoyed the biggest year-on-year shipment growth of 48.2%

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Xiaomi Raises Nearly $4 Billion Through Sale of Shares and Bonds


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By Anniek Bao / Dec 18, 2020 02:23 PM / World

A Swedish court of appeal gave the green light to a 5G spectrum auction by local telecoms regulators that explicitly prohibits bidders from using equipment from Chinese telecom gear giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

The decision, which revokes a previous injunction stopping the ban from taking effect, deals another blow to the Chinese company in its struggle to get foreign networks to use its equipment in the face of a U.S.-led campaign against the company and its alleged ties to the Chinese government.

It is unclear if Huawei will be able to overturn the appeal court ruling, and if it does, what chance it has to do so before bidding takes place in the Swedish telecom equipment auction.

The Swedish regulator now says it needs time to reach out to bidding parties before settling on a date for the auction.

Read the full story here.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)


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Ding Yi / Dec 16, 2020 06:25 PM / World

Tesla supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) plans to build a $5 billion lithium battery factory in Indonesia, ramping up its capacity amid growing demand for electric vehicles.

That message came from Septian Hario Seto, Indonesia’s deputy minister at the coordinating ministry of maritime and investment affairs, during a Tuesday virtual briefing, according to Reuters.

The plant will start production in 2024, aiming to take advantage of the country’s large supply of nickel, from which battery chemicals can be extracted.

The government official said that a deal between China-based CATL and Indonesian state miner PT Aneka Tambang has been inked in order to ensure 60% of its mined nickel goes into batteries in Indonesia, Reuters reported.

If the plan goes ahead, the Indonesian plant will be CATL’s latest push to expand its manufacturing presence outside its home market.

In October last year, CATL broke ground on its first overseas lithium-ion battery plant in Thuringia, a state in Germany where the Chinese company has built ties with several automakers including BMW and Volkswagen. The facility is set to begin production by 2022 with an initial capacity of 14 GWh.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Carmaker Changan Joins Hands with Huawei, CATL to Create Premium Smart Car Brand

 


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By Ding Yi / Dec 15, 2020 01:02 PM / World

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Chinese flying carmaker EHang has obtained an Austrian trial flight permit for its flagship passenger-grade autonomous aerial vehicle, in the latest step towards its goal of rolling out urban air mobility service worldwide.

The permit, issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Austria last week, allows EHang to conduct trial operations of completely pilotless flights in the European Union member state for its EHang 216, according to a company statement released on Monday.

Getting the Austrian permit will also support EHang’s growth in Europe by showing the benefits of its urban air mobility service to local regulators, customers and partners, the company said.

Guangzhou-based EHang is touting its urban air mobility solution as one possible way to alleviate ground traffic congestion.

Last month, a company spokesperson told Caixin that the State Council, China’s cabinet, has promised to accelerate the formulation of standards and regulations for urban air transportation on par with countries which have rolled out industrial roadmaps to commercialize urban flying people-movers.

Monday’s announcement comes just a month after EHang completed the maiden flight of its EHang 216 in central Seoul as part of its efforts to promote the use of self-flying vehicles in South Korea, where the government has set a timetable to commercialize “air taxis” by 2025.

Globally EHang sold 23 EHang 216s in the third quarter of 2020, an increase from the 18 units sold in the same period of last year.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: EHang’s Aerial People-Mover Logs Maiden Flight in Seoul


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Reporter Han Wei / Dec 14, 2020 12:27 PM / World

Last week, a vaccine developed by China’s state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm was reported to have protected 86% of people against Covid-19 in trials conducted in the United Arab Emirates, winning approval for full public use in the Mideast country. The vaccine is based on using an inactivated version of the coronavirus to stimulate human immune systems.

China is of course not the only country developing a vaccine and scientists around the world have made unprecedented efforts to produce effective vaccines against SARS-COV-2, the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic. Several major vaccine developers have reported promising results in recent weeks, leading to emergency government approvals for public use.

However significant obstacles still lie ahead of a global roll out. These include quickly ramping up enough production capacity to inoculate billions of people in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.5 million lives in just a year. And in addition to the normal problems of transporting vaccines to the remotest corners of the world, some Covid-19 inoculations require special handling at super-cold temperatures.

Read the full story here.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com) and editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)


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By Anniek Bao / Dec 10, 2020 06:03 PM / World

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Money-losing American e-commerce company Wish is known for off-the-wall offers: wireless headphones that come free with $3 shipping, $2 piles of worms, or $6 sex toys.

The trade-off? Unbranded items, lower quality goods, longer wait times, and an overwhelming dependence on Chinese merchants.

San Francisco-based parent ContextLogic Inc. wants to raise $1.27 billion from its Nasdaq debut -- said to be imminent -- if the underwriters exercise the option to allocate an additional 6.9 million shares.

But with more than 90% of its retailers being China-based, its model could put it at risk from the strained relationship between Beijing and Washington.

Read the full story here.

Contact reporter Anniek Bao (yunxinbao@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)


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By DealStreetAsia / Dec 10, 2020 02:09 PM / World

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Singapore’s Sea Ltd., the tech startup that’s become the most valuable company in Southeast Asia, said it plans to raise about $2 billion by issuing new securities in the U.S.

Sea plans to offer 11 million American Depositary Shares, with the option to sell another 1.65 million, according to a statement. The offering would total $2.2 billion at Wednesday’s closing price of $2.6 billion with the additional shares. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are bookrunners for the deal.

Sea, a games company that has expanded into e-commerce, has surged to a market valuation of $100 billion with its shares rising more than 400% this year alone. It intends to spend the proceeds from the new offering on business expansion, “including potential strategic investments and acquisitions,” the company said in its statement.

Sea’s first self-made mobile game, a battle royale called Free Fire, has attracted tens of millions of players and its gameplay is now one of YouTube’s most-watched attractions. The company’s Shopee platform has also surged in sync with greater demand for home shopping and food delivery, having taken the mantle of Southeast Asia’s leading e-commerce provider at the end of 2019, according to research firm iPrice.

Investors have been betting on Sea becoming its region’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. rolled into one, though the company’s most recent quarterly results showed a slight slowdown in its prodigious growth rate.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Alibaba Restructures Gaming Unit to Challenge Tencent, NetEase


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By Yang Ge / Dec 09, 2020 05:31 PM / World

Photo: Visual China

Photo: Visual China

China’s satellite-building aspirations have come crashing back to earth, at least for one company that was trying to buy a German space technology firm.

The pending purchase of German satellite and radar technology maker IMST by state-controlled missile maker China Aerospace and Industry Group (CASIC) has been shot down by Berlin over national security concerns, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing a government document.

The setback comes as Western governments grow wary of their technology being acquired by Chinese buyers, who are often more driven by Beijing policy objectives than commercial factors. The U.S. has led that charge by killing a number of deals in recent years, many of those in the sensitive sector for high-tech microchips that power many of the world’s gadgets.

The document seen by Reuters said Berlin sees IMST as an important provider of satellite communication, radar and radio technology, and its expertise is also needed for construction of the latest and future telecommunications networks.

An IMST spokeswoman declined to comment, and CASIC was not immediately available for comment.

Germany has lowered its threshold for reviewing and potentially blocking takeovers by foreign companies, saying all deals involving a 10% or greater stake purchase must now get such reviews, versus a previous 25% threshold. It has blocked a number of planned purchases by Chinese buyers, including the 2018 takeover of German toolmaker Leifeld by Yantai Taihai in 2018; and a bid this year by China’s Vital Materials Co. to buy PPM Pure Metals.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

Related: China’s Tztek to Acquire German Firm to Enter Semiconductor Testing Market


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By DealStreetAsia / Dec 09, 2020 12:51 PM / World

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The limitations of public transport amid COVID-19, and the need to ease traffic congestion and lower carbon emissions, among other factors, has given a shot in the arm for the car-sharing market in Southeast Asia.

Among those startups taking advantage of the new normal is the car-rental platform SOCAR Malaysia.

The firm is launching its wholly-owned brand Trevo — which allows car owners to share their vehicles to verified users on its platform for a fee — in Indonesia as soon as this week, said a top executive of the firm.

Trevo— an Airbnb of sorts for automobiles — was successfully launched in Malaysia in February.

SOCAR Malaysia, which has been in the car rental market in the Southeast Asian country since 2018, is 80 per cent owned by the South Korean conglomerate SK Corp, which also runs SOCAR in that country. Eugene Private Equity, and KH Energy are the other major shareholders.

“With Trevo, those not financially equipped to lease or purchase cars can experience owning one by only paying for it when it’s needed,” SOCAR Malaysia chief executive officer Leon Foong told DealStreetAsia. Car-owners, too, can earn some extra income by renting their cars.

The Indonesian government’s move to reduce traffic in metropolitan areas is also a tailwind. “We’ll first focus on the “Jabodetabek”, which is the Jakarta Metropolitan Area. We will also target other addressable markets within Java, Sumatra, and some of the popular local tourist destinations,” Foong said.

While Indonesia is a fragmented and tough market to crack, many startups are betting big on the shared-economy model in automobiles.

Malaysian car-sharing startup Moovby, for instance, launched in Indonesia in May last year and is now in four cities in the country. It plans to add another eight to 10 cities this year, local media Sunbiz reported in August. Moovby’s Indonesia business is already contributing 70 per cent to its overall revenue, with only 30 per cent from Malaysia, despite launching there in 2017.

In Indonesia, Trevo will also compete with online car rental platform Indoloka.com and Sharecar, a product developed by ASSA Mobility, a division of PT Adi Sarana Armada Tbk (ASSA Rent), the largest car rental company in Indonesia.

Foong, though, is confident: “Our competitive edge is our technology, operational know-how in terms of managing a remote distributed fleet and most importantly, scaling a two-sided marketplace while keeping costs under control.”

Profitability

Car-sharing is about maximising yield per available car-sharing day while reducing costs related to accidents and repairs.

“This market will come down to who can deliver the best service at the best price. We will be able to scale our operations efficiently, while keeping the risk-related losses within comfort levels,” said Foong. “If we can scale more efficiently than anyone else, each dollar spent will yield a higher RoI (return on investment).”

Trevo takes a cut from the income earned by car owners who share their cars.

“A key to optimising the car-sharing model in a market like Indonesia is to not only focus on revenue maximisation but also to leverage the technology we have to reduce car accidents and thefts,” he noted. “The best way to do this is to scale up our platform and collect as much user data as possible, which will then feed new data points into our machine learning algorithms that can help us better understand the risk profile of each individual driver,” he added.

According to German research firm Statista, revenues in the car-sharing segment in Indonesia is projected to reach $32 million in 2020. The revenue is expected to clock a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.2 per cent between 2020 and 2025, and grow to $81 million.

The car-rental market, though, is leaps and bounds ahead in Indonesia. Its revenue is projected to reach $207 million in 2020 and clock a CAGR of 30.4 per cent between 2020 and 2025, growing to $780 million by then.

The dominance of car rental firms and several other challenges await Trevo as it begins its Indonesia journey.

Well-funded to ride a tough market “I think the challenge is, how do we scale up while minimising the risk,” Foong noted, adding that Indonesia is a large country with fragmented data points.

“For example, there’s no digital centralised, nationwide KYC (Know-Your-Customer) platform for us to check for criminal records. So I think we need to focus on leveraging our tech, focus on our KYC and risk control measures,” Foong said.

He said SOCAR plans to raise at least $36 million for expansion in Indonesia. “…you need to look at our previous rounds, we raised $18 million. I think we’ll be easily looking at double that atleast,” he said.

It was reported in February that SOCAR Mobility Malaysia, which operates SOCAR Malaysia, raised a $18 million Series A from two South Korean investors Eugene Private Equity, the private equity arm of conglomerate Eugene Group and oil company KH Energy.

The new capital pushed SOCAR Malaysia’s total funding to $40 million and valuation to $118 million, according to a statement at the time.

“We will still have a very healthy runway, so it’s not so much a necessity [to raise funds]. But as we enter Indonesia, the size of the market is big enough for us to want to invest, to really scale up that future profitability, and to really scale up that competitive advantage,” Foong said.

Automotive manufacturers and insurance companies are the ones SOCAR is interested in engaging.

Malaysia play and future outlook

SOCAR Malaysia, launched in 2018 by South Korea’s SOCAR in its first expansion overseas, allows users to book cars on its platform with its app. Its door-to-door car delivery service, enables users to reserve a car and have it delivered at the desired pickup point. The car will then be retrieved from the selected return location.

In Malaysia, SOCAR mainly provides car rental services through its app in several areas and cities including Klang Valley (Kuala Lumpur and Selangor state), Penang and Johor Bahru. It offers hatchbacks, sedans and MPVs. “SOCAR as a group is the first full-stack, car-sharing company in Southeast Asia. We have a short-term car rental model where we own the assets,” Foong explained.

However, this model is changing. Instead of owning the cars, Foong said SOCAR Malaysia plans to move towards becoming a platform, adopting the asset-light approach. The startup plans to collaborate with more traditional car rental companies to put their fleets on its platform.

SOCAR currently owns the majority of its fleet. Moving into 2021, Foong said it hopes 15-20 per cent of its fleet will be from its partners.

Foong said SOCAR has seen the demand of its car rental business gaining traction, allowing it to approach existing car rental companies which have spare capacity and do not have the technology or rely on traditional sales channels for their fleets. SOCAR can then earn a share of the revenue, he said. “That way we can scale faster without investing in assets.”

SOCAR Malaysia has recently partnered with Sime Darby, a conglomerate in Malaysia which also operates car rental business. Sime Darby has deployed its cars on SOCAR platform.

Moving forward, SoCAR Malaysia also plans to introduce ancillary services including changing battery, and sending cars to service centres among others, on top of its custodian service and door-to-door service, which deliver the car straight to customers as it moves to differentiate itself from competitors including on-demand car-sharing platform GoCAR, Kwikcar, and Edgerent, among others.

SOCAR Mobility Malaysia’s revenue for 2019 stood at 31.22 million ringgit, surging more than 3.2 times from 9.48 million ringgit in 2018. Its loss after tax was at 47.42 million ringgit in 2019, widening from a loss after tax of 22.32 million ringgit in 2018, data from Companies Commission of Malaysia showed.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported last month that SOCAR has sent requests for proposal to brokerage firms for its initial public offering (IPO) in South Korea. The company provides various services, including car-sharing, ride-hailing, used-car sales, and chauffeurs in the country.

“Although we have submitted our proposals to brokerage firms, no details of the IPO timeline or plans have been decided yet,” a SOCAR spokesperson had said then.

SOCAR had said in October that it had almost reached unicorn status, valued at 1 trillion won ($897.38 million), after raising 60 billion won in funding from two private equity firms. It had earlier raised $44 million from Altos Ventures, KB Investment, Stonebridge Ventures and Softbank Ventures, an earlier report showed.

As for Trevo, besides the areas SOCAR Malaysia covers, it is also available in East Malaysia. After its February launch, Trevo had collaborated with the transport ministry to get more car-owners onboard. Foong said the take-up rate was hit by COVID-19.

“Ultimately in the automotive industry, there’s still a lot of inefficiencies. People are paying too much for loans, people are paying too much for depreciating assets. People are paying too much for the second car, too much insurance,” he said, adding that not everyone can afford to pay for a downpayment to own a car.

Can platforms like Trevo iron out the inefficiencies? The answer is in the making.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: In Depth: Southeast Asia Becomes Region’s Next Tech Battleground


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By Yang Ge / Dec 04, 2020 11:59 AM / World

Donald Trump’s blacklist aimed at stymying China’s high-tech aspirations is taking a new direction.

Until now, the outgoing U.S. president has targeted Chinese tech firms for his “naughty list,” banning the likes of telecom giant Huawei and most recently chipmaker SMIC from buying American goods without a special U.S. license. But that looks set to change with the upcoming publication of a new list of U.S. firms that Washington believes do business with the Chinese and Russian militaries.

TTI Electronics, an electronic components seller backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has confirmed the U.S. Commerce Department is compiling such a list, and that its name is among those being considered for inclusion. Its confirmation this week comes just days after another components seller, Arrow Electronics, confirmed it was also being considered for the list.

Not surprisingly, both companies have denied they do business with the Chinese military, in this case both through their Asian subsidiaries.

Such a new list would add to a final flurry of efforts by Trump’s administration to keep U.S. technology out of Chinese hands as its time in office draws to a close. On Thursday, the U.S. Defense Department announced the addition of four new Chinese companies to its list of names that do business with the Chinese military, including SMIC and leading oil explorer CNOOC.

And also this week, Washington added state-run China National Electronic Import-Export Co. (CEIEC) to a growing blacklist of Chinese firms banned from buying American products, citing the company’s ties to a Venezuelan government that has been at loggerheads with Washington for years.

To read the full story, click here.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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By Ding Yi / Dec 03, 2020 01:24 PM / World

A cargo flight containing over 6 million medical items including face masks

A cargo flight containing over 6 million medical items including face masks

Cainiao, the logistics arm of Alibaba, is launching what it says is China’s first regular cross-border cold chain air route to transport temperature-sensitive medicines including Covid-19 vaccines, the company said on Thursday.

The route, established in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, will transport the medicines twice a week from Shenzhen to Addis Ababa, using cold chain cabins equipped with a real-time temperature control system, it said in a statement.

The cargo terminal in Ethiopia is also outfitted with storage facilities that can keep temperatures as low as minus 23 degrees Celsius in order to ensure seamless cold chain logistics, it added.

The medicines can also be transported to the rest of the world via Dubai and Addis Ababa.

The route’s launch comes as some parts of Africa have seen an increase in Covid-19 infections over the past few weeks, and as China hopes to supply the continent with vaccines developed by local Chinese companies.

“The launch of the cold chain air freight has further bolstered our global logistics capabilities and allows us to offer a one-stop solution for the global distribution of medical products such as Covid-19 vaccines,” said James Zhao, general manager of Cainiao International Supply Chain.

As some Covid-19 vaccines are pending approval for use, Chinese logistics companies are stepping up deployments on routes to transport them. Industry giant SF Express has been working with drugmakers to help deliver vaccine candidates around the world for clinical trials, state media CGTN reported last month.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Alibaba Subsidiary Cainiao Pushes Into Malaysia With Cross-Border Delivery Service


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