Big money: Ant finally files for IPO as Jio finally stops raising

Asia Tech Review: 21 July 2020

Welcome back,

I’m a little late this week but, as fortune would have it, I get a fresh run at briefly explaining why Ant Group’s IPO is such a big deal. There’s also more from Reliance, which announced its final investment, and a curious relocation for some of the New York Times in Hong Kong.

Yes, that’s it, that’s the intro—short this week.

See you again next time—stay safe,

Jon


China

Ant is finally moving its mountain

One benefit of this newsletter going out on Tuesday morning is I can write about Ant’s IPO while it is still fresh. It’s been a long, long, long time coming, but the Alibaba affiliate is finally going public.

Refresher: Ant operates payment app Alipay, China’s go-to mobile wallet, and a slew of financial products including loans and investments products. It has branched out into enterprise services which account for about half of revenue. And, yes, importantly, Alibaba owns one-third of the business.

The listing will be a dual China Star Market-Hong Kong affair—the first major combination of those two

Firstly, this is a huge deal simply because of size.

Reuters recently reported Ant is shooting for a $200B valuation. It’s believable that it’ll get it. This is a business that—thanks to its attachment to Alibaba—has commanded insane valuations: $150B in 2018 when it raised a colossal $14B in funding. (That was supposed to be a pre-IPO deal, by the way.)

More importantly, this is clearly a marker for other Chinese firms to follow—just as Alibaba’s 2014 US IPO—which remains a record highest—led to a glut of US IPO from Chinese firms, and then its December 2019 Hong Kong secondary kicked off other listings.

The message here is clear: the best Chinese companies can now list in China, and tap Hong Kong for access to international retail audiences.

Earlier, Nikkei Asian Review had written that the Shanghai-based Star Market would bring about a “new dawn” for Chinese tech stocks and this ‘Nasdaq alternative’ is finally picking up pace after a lackluster start last year.

The timing is right, too. US-China tensions and the Luckin Coffee fraud have made it tougher for Chinese firms to list Stateside. Ant’s listing—and Alibaba’s HK secondary—are carving out a market that a new generation of Chinese tech firms can tap with greater ease than the US.

Already, it’s happening. For example, robotics startup CloudMinds is looking to go public locally because sanctions botched a US IPO. Ant’s run will make the pathway all the more clearer. 

More: I wrote in The Ken’s BFO newsletter today that Ant’s listing is a clear signal that Chinese companies must put China first. Shout-out to TikTok and its efforts to appear non-Chinese.

In other news

China says it may retaliate against Ericsson and Nokia if the EU bans Huawei equipment. The UK banned Huawei kit from its 5G network in response to pressure from the Trump administration, and it remains possible that the sentiment could spread across Europe. There’s also cause for concern in other parts of the world. Huawei’s dominance in Southeast Asia is threatened after it lost 5G deals in Singapore and Vietnam. However, Huawei is among five bidders fighting to win a 5G contract with Thailand’s largest operator, AIS.

Britain’s Huawei ban may also end ByteDance’s interest in making London its new global HQ for TikTok, according to reports. Already, though, the city has become TikTok’s unofficial European headquarters by virtue of a massive hiring spree in recent months.

Microsoft span out its chatbot Xiaoice

EV maker/Tesla would-be/Tesla lawsuit contestant* Xpeng raised $500M from Hillhouse, Sequoia and others

The US reportedly became a bigger download market than China in Q2—first time since 2014 and it’s due to Covid-19

US Attorney General Barr says Apple, Google and Microsoft collaborate with China in order to sell in the country—while I’m willing to view TikTok as a threat to the US-based on risk and not evidence, where is the evidence for this?


Hong Kong

Gray Lady on the move, kinda

The New York Times is moving some of its Hong Kong-based staff to Seoul on account of the recent national security law

“China’s sweeping new national security law in Hong Kong has created a lot of uncertainty about what the new rules will mean to our operation and our journalism,” Times editors and executives who oversee the paper’s international coverage and operations wrote in a memo to staff on Tuesday. “We feel it is prudent to make contingency plans and begin to diversify our editing staff around the region.”

Two interesting takeaways from what is a logical a decision:

  • It doesn’t apply to all reporters, only the publication’s “digital news operations”—that’s around one-third of staff

  • It isn’t Taiwan. The relocation is to Seoul. Taiwan has been the destination for China-focused reporters kicked from the Mainland. Some have suggested Seoul is a more neutral place that avoids upsetting China. Who, indeed, knows...

On similar lines: VPN providers are giving up hosting servers in Hong Kong


India 

Jio’s super app train makes a final fuel stop

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Jio Platforms closing out its funding with a $4.5B investment from Google.

The deal takes Jio Platforms—Reliance’s digital platform business—to $20B raised from investors that include Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm and a range of top hedge funds and venture capitalists plus Google.

  • For context: all of India’s startups together raised $14.5B last year

Google got the same discount as Facebook—others paid a 12% premium—presumably because these are the most strategic backers. Facebook owns WhatsApp, India’s top messaging app, and Google operates Android, which dominates the smartphone space with over 90% market share. These are crucial blocks to build a digital strategy in 2020.

Those discounts also imply that Google’s investment deal was reached sometime before it was announced. That shows the deals opened with a bang (Facebook) and closed with a bang (Google).

The deal is a disappointment given Google had days earlier announced a bold gesture to invest $10B into India over the next 5-7 years.

Jio means half of the budget blown already, and you’d hardly call the project an under-served cause that is in need of investment. This is Google ensuring it doesn’t miss out on whatever comes, not the act of giving or spurring development that the $10B announcement initially promised.

The smart take: Well done for ignoring the many Jio hot takes, but make sure to read my colleague Praveen on why this is Jio’s endgame. (Complete with dazzling illustrations.)

In other news

It may not be Reliance, but Policybazaar is hoping to kick off a wave of Indian tech IPOs with a listing next year at a target valuation of $3.5B—SoftBank is an investor

Smartphone sales dropped by 50% year-on-year in India during the first half of 2020

Fantasy sports startup Dream11 is reportedly raising $200M at a valuation of at least $2B


Southeast Asia

A strangely quiet week for Southeast Asia but in rare tech IPO news: retail tech startup Trax is reportedly eying a US IPO at a valuation of over $2B

Singapore is readying a blockchain network for faster and quicker international payments

SIM swapping has arrived in Singapore—thankfully without damage to the victim on this occasion

On-demand services Grab and Gojek have been used to intimidate activists in Indonesia

Digital banking startup Percipient raised $5M


Japan

SoftBank could sell Arm, or send it to IPO, according to a CNBC report that claims the telco giant has hired Goldman Sachs to explore an exit. SoftBank bought the business for $32B four years ago and had reportedly intended to list it until it received interest from potential buyers.

Remember that Masayoshi Son-Jack Ma feud (ATR June 29)? Well, SoftBank quietly sold off another $2.2B in Alibaba stock to keep the fire burning just a little bit longer. It still owns a stake worth $13.7B.

Japan is handing subsidies to firms that shift their manufacturing away from China—there’s an initial 87 beneficiaries


Outside of Asia tech

“No One Knows What Thailand Is Doing Right, but So Far, It’s Working”—I’ve seen a lot of complaints about this story but for me it’s accurate. Many of Thailand’s neighbours adopted stricter lockdowns, masks are also as common, and yet Philippines and Indonesia are struggling to contain Covid-19. Not a criticism of Thailand, but valid cause to ponder the differences.


Last week on The Ken

I work at The Ken where we publish one daily story for each of our subscriptions. Here’s a recap what we ran over the last week:

Southeast Asia

  • A tonik for Philippines’ underserved banking market link

  • Singlife’s hybrid theory tested in Singapore’s insurance forge link [free read]

  • Incoming: More Sequoia funding at more stages for Southeast Asia link

  • Into AMTD’s Singapore spiderverse link

  • When the Philippine taxman comes knocking on online sellers’ doors link [free read]

India

  • Swayam’s missed opportunity to be a Covid-19 remedy for higher education link

  • The Reliance Retail-DMart face-off over essentials link

  • Business on WhatsApp often skips WhatsApp Business link

  • The telecoms gymnastics behind BSNL’s Make-in-India 4G push link

  • Hero Group takes a leap of faith with its deep tech ambitions link

  • Indian fintech’s most wanted: The elusive BillDesk acquisition link

You can sample more stories on our free reads page.


You just finished reading Asia Tech Review, the weekly newsletter for keeping up with the tech industry across Asia.

If someone sent this to you, you can sign up for free at Asiatechreview.com