Asia Tech Review: 21 September 2020
When you write a weekly newsletter you collect links to stories during the week, and try to write it as you go in an ideal world. That makes the task of writing the compendium easier because you aren’t sitting down to go through a pile of links over the weekend. (My cheat sheet is this ATR daily news channel on Telegram.)
But it’s increasingly tricky to do that with some topics moving daily, be that TikTok/WeChat bans or just US-China/China-India relations. Simply keeping up with the latest on TikTok is tiring. But that’s why I started ATR, to force myself to keep up with what’s happening. Hopefully there’s value there for others, but it certainly feels like it used to be a lot easier.
Until next time,
I’m not sure even I know what the situation is with TikTok’s US ‘sale.’ Reports suggest President Trump has okayed a deal that will see Oracle and Walmart partner with TikTok’s US business. That’s far removed from the apparent original premise, which was that TikTok USA shouldn’t be owned or operated by a Chinese entity. (It has been pointed out Oracle’s management team are Trump donors.)
But ByteDance is talking to candidates to take the US CEO job, they apparently include Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom
Investor pressure is said to be why ByteDance switched from the idea of selling its US business to this new deal
For the deal, TikTok is said to be seeking a $60B valuation just for its US business
There’s no such salvation for WeChat, although a judge has blocked a ban that would have removed its apps from US app stores yesterday (Sunday). It’s not clear what’ll happen next, but Tencent has rebranded WeChat Work to WeCom for one thing.
My former colleague Danny puts it all into context here:
ByteDance’s Chinese rival Kuaishou is reportedly aiming for a Hong Kong IPO that would value it at $50B—that’s up from its last venture capital valuation of $28B. In other IPO news: JD Health’s planned $1B IPO looks likely to happen this month.
KKR has raised over $11B for its for its fourth Asia fund—China is the focus but the firm also plans to look at Japan, India and Southeast Asia
Ant’s IPO has won approval from the Shanghai STAR market, Hong Kong is next
Uber is reportedly selling some of its Didi share, that follows a divestment in Russia and reports of plans to sell some of its stake in Grab
Huawei has entered a new period of uncertainty as a restriction on US partners kicks in:
After midnight on Sept. 14, all its non-American suppliers across the world will have to stop shipping to Huawei if their products contain U.S. technology. Those suppliers will need a license from the U.S. Commerce Department if they want to maintain business with the Chinese tech champion, according to the department's export controls imposed on Aug. 17.
Evergrande’s electric-car unit will raise $516M from Tencent, Jack Ma-backed Yunfeng Capital and others
Alibaba is reportedly in talks to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” into Zhaopin, one of China’s largest recruitment sites. The firm is also said to be considering a $443M investment in Dahua, a surveillance firm blacklisted by the US government. That deal would be made alongside China Mobile, according to Reuters. Finally, Alibaba is also getting into a new business: modernising factories.
Money launderers have used some of China’s leading online shopping sites to transfer billions of dollars to offshore gambling sites, according to police raids
Tencent has agreed a one-year broadcast deal with the English Premiership. That fills a gap when a previous deal with streaming service PPTV, which is owned by retail giant Suning, fell apart during the initial Covid-19 outbreak
But the US government is reportedly looking into Tencent’s stakes in gaming businesses and in particular how the likes of Epic Games and Riot Games share data
Google ensured the week couldn’t end without concerns about internet sovereignty in India when it pulled Paytm’s apps from the Google Play Store for violating gambling rules. This blog post lays out its concerns although it doesn’t specifically mention Paytm nor what it was guilty of in specifics.
Paytm has claimed it was delisted because it offered cash back games in its app. It said Google offers the same features in its (competing) payment app. It also claimed it was delisted without having a chance to respond. That’s despite Google claiming Paytm had made “repeated” violations.
The furore lasted hours as the app was reinstated after less than a day with Paytm’s CEO calling it “bullshit of a different degree.” But it has again raised concerns of the power that gatekeepers have, especially when they compete with companies that are hosted on their platform and are not local.
Google meanwhile has kept quiet. With active antitrust cases in India, the episode has been nothing short of a disaster for the company.
Early-stage investors are raising “opportunity funds” to double down on their best bets. Their problem is a glut of investor cash is flowing in at later stages and weakening their ownership stakes.
India is working on reforming its IPO regulations, and a bunch of companies are said to be eying listings: Delhivery is reportedly 12-18 months from an IPO and Flipkart is said to be looking at an overseas IPO potentially as soon as next year. Perhaps in preparation for such an exit, Tencent invested $62.8M in Flipkart last week to take a minority stake.
India’s cricket league (IPL) is back and its title sponsor, fantasy sports startup Dream11, just raised $225M at a valuation of over $2.5B
YouTube (belatedly) thinks it can fill the TikTok void with a new short video service called YouTube Shorts—it launched in India last week and sits within the YouTube app
Digital insurance startup Acko, which includes Amazon among its investors, raised $60M
E-commerce deals site CashKaro raised $10M led by Korea Investment Partners
Online events platform Airmeet raised $12M led by Sequoia India
Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing battle got a big update this week when Bloomberg reported Alibaba is in talks to invest $3B. Alibaba has long been linked with an investment in Grab, which is backed by its pal SoftBank. There’s been stories in 2017, 2018 and, in 2019, Ant Group also held discussions to invest in Grab’s financial arm.
So why now?
In basic terms, Uber is selling part of its Grab stock at an apparent discount—that’s attractive for any long-term interested party like Alibaba.
Now comes some theories that aren’t based on reporting:
Adding Alibaba gives Grab leverage for its much-reported merger negotiations with Gojek—there’s plenty of conflict around how a deal would work, some of which I touched on writing for The Ken’s weekly newsletter (another reason to buy our subscription 😄)
Or, if you like more chaotic theories: there are two camps when it comes to the merger deal. One camp that’s pro-merger and is leaking merger snippets to the press to encourage the deal. (Potentially investors.) The other is the anti-merger party and by leaking details of the Alibaba deal, it positions Grab as not needing a merger because it can crush* Gojek without needing a union. (More likely execs and employees.)
*to use the terminology that Grab and Gojek reserve for their rivalry
How Europe’s fintech companies are doing in Asia, mostly Southeast Asia
Singapore is drawing companies put out by India’s China ban and ongoing US-China tension. Tencent is making it the location for its Asia Pacific HQ and ByteDance, which already runs its Lark productivity service in Singapore, is doing the same for its overseas business.
On similar lines, Lightspeed Ventures has also announced a Singapore office and Southeast Asia team. That follows GGV, another global fund, which moved into the region last year.
Insider, an online public from Business Insider, is launching in Singapore
Streaming worldwide grew by over 60% worldwide during Covid but actually drop in many parts of Asia, according to a new report:
Differences within the vast region further highlight that point. “Asia’s 2% year-over-year rise in streaming time in Q2 masks the reality that four out five Asian regions witnessed declines in the quarter. Eastern Asia, including China, Japan, and South Korea declined by 7.5% year over year. Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, contracted the most with 34% year-over-year losses. Only Southern Asia, including India, Iran, and Pakistan, tallied a rise in viewing,” said the report, noting that minutes watched more than doubled year-on-year in South Asia.
Thailand blocked over 2,000 websites ahead of anti-government protests that happened over the weekend
SoftBank and Naver are taking Line private. It appears that the plan remains to merge Line with Yahoo Japan (Z Holdings) to make a domestic giant in Japan.
Foodpanda has launched in Japan—the company is owned by Delivery Hero and it acquired Woowa Brothers, Korea’s largest food delivery service, last year
It looks like SoftBank is having a very major think on refinancing. Fresh from offloading Arm for $40B, it will sell around a third of its Japanese operator business to raise $10.4B. It is also reportedly considering a move to go private.
Speaking of Arm, analysts are predicting it could get caught in the US-China spat since China’s regulator is one of a number of international bodies that will need to greenlight the deal:
Arm’s blueprints for powering chipsets are a critical component for many Chinese smartphone makers and AI firms and China is expected to take a dim view of an American company having so much sway in an industry it has prioritised in its battle for tech supremacy with the United States.
“Anything that creates more concentration in the industry to the benefit of a U.S. company, I would think that’s not aligned with what China wants, said Art Dicker, director at Shanghai-based R&P China Lawyers.
As relations with Japan continue to deteriorate, Samsung is helping advance the Korean government’s goal of chip technology self-sufficiency by buying local components, investing in local sources and providing technology
LG Chem is planning to spin off its electric car battery business, which is the world’s largest supplier working with the likes of Tesla and GM
Outside of Asia tech
Lots of insightful sessions from Splice Media, an online event focused on media in Asia—they’ve taken an interesting approach by spreading sessions out across a month rather than packing them into a days-long schedule. Oh and most are already on YouTube, including this one with The Ken CEO Rohin Dharmakumar
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