The weekend provided no rest to news-wary reporters, with major announcements coming from Xiaomi, SoftBank and the Chinese government the past few days that will continue to change the global tech landscape.
Xiaomi Chinese Depository Receipts
One of the most important yet underreported stories of 2018 has been the development of Chinese Depository Receipts (known as CDRs). I wrote a comprehensive primer on the investment mechanism a few weeks ago, but the summary is that CDRs will give mainland Chinese investors access to overseas-listed stocks that set up the right custodian accounts. Due to domestic capital controls and relatively weak stock exchange rules in China, many Chinese tech giants are listed on overseas stock exchanges in New York and Hong Kong.
Beijing-based Xiaomi, which produces a line of phones and offers mobile software services, is launching one of the most anticipated IPOs of the year, with a valuation expected to top tens of billions of dollars. In its official filing, the company targeted a fundraise of $10 billion. While Xiaomi is a sterling example of the potential success of Chinese entrepreneurs, local retail buyers would likely have had no access to buy the stock, which will be listed in Hong Kong.
Fiona Lau and Julie Zhu at Reuters are now reporting that Xiaomi could be one of the first companies to take advantage of the new CDR mechanism, potentially reserving 30 percent of its new issue for CDR buyers. That would be about $3 billion if the assumptions of the fundraise play out.
If the CDR mechanism works as expected, Chinese companies and potentially many others could suddenly tap a vast new pool of capital, either in the IPO process or more generally. That could push valuations for many of these issues higher than they might otherwise go, since Chinese mainland investors have limited ability to invest in overseas stocks due to capital controls. A valuation that might cause a New York-based money manager to flee might be more than palatable to a Chinese investor.
While Chinese tech giants are likely to quickly offer CDR options to take advantage of their local brand power and increase upward pressure on their stock prices, the bigger question in my mind is how long it will take overseas companies to offer similar measures and get access to this capital market. While companies like Facebook and Google are blocked or mostly blocked from mainland China, other companies like Apple have strong brand presence in the country, and could theoretically offer a CDR as it strives for a $1 trillion valuation. There are huge legal and policy roadblocks to overcome of course, but such a debut would be a major milestone in China’s financial development.
SoftBank executive changes
Japan’s SoftBank Group, which owns a set of major tech and finance companies, announced a new group of senior execs late on Friday that sets up something of a leadership contest to succeed the group’s founder, Masayoshi Son.
Several years ago, Son had indicated that Nikesh Arora, who had spent a decade at Google and eventually rose to be the company’s chief business officer, would succeed him. Arora became president and chief operating officer of SoftBank, but would last less than two years before heading out from the role. As a sort of coda to that chapter, we learned late last week that Arora has joined Palo Alto Networks as its CEO.
Now, SoftBank has announced that three people will take leadership roles in the company, and all three will join its board of directors. Rajeev Misra, who runs the $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund, will become an executive vice president (EVP) while maintaining his duties to the fund.
Katsunori Sago, who until recently was the chief investment officer of Japan Post, Japan’s largest savings bank with a $1.9 trillion portfolio, will join SoftBank as an EVP and chief strategy officer. Sago had been rumored to be considering leaving Japan Post just a few weeks ago. Finally, former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was named an EVP and SoftBank’s new chief operating officer. Claure was elevated to executive chairman of Sprint last month, while stepping down as CEO.
Each of the three are positioned around the key tentpoles of SoftBank. SoftBank’s core business remains telecom, on which Claure will presumably spend significant time. The group’s financial interests, which includes a 100 percent stake in Fortress Investment Group, will likely get significant attention from Sago. And the SoftBank Vision Fund, which has received splashy headlines with its massive investments in global unicorn startups, is obviously a key future pillar of the company, giving Misra a powerful perch in the group.
Masayoshi Son is 60 years old today. While retirement seems to be the least likely course of action for the energetic entrepreneur, clearly he is starting to think through succession in a more robust way than he did before with Arora. That should make SoftBank investors far more content, and also provide a little bit of a competitive dynamic at the top of the organization to drive the group’s results in the years to come.
China initiates investigation into Samsung and other chip companies
The chip wars between China and the rest of the world continue to heat up. Now, it looks like Samsung, the world’s largest chipmaker, is in the crosshairs of Beijing, according to a Wall Street Journal report by Yoko Kubota. In addition to Samsung, Micron and SK Hynix were also ensnared in the investigation.
China has made building a strong indigenous chip industry a core pillar of its economic development strategy. In addition to a comprehensive plan known as Made in China 2025, the country has also been attempting to put together the world’s largest semiconductor venture capital investment fund, which in aggregate could have tens of billions of dollars in capital at its disposal.
The investigations against Samsung and the two chipmakers comes at the same time that China has also once again delayed the close of Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. Qualcomm has been waiting for months to get Beijing’s approval on that deal, which would provide the company a fresh source of revenue and a renewed product mix in strategic areas like automotive.
The use of economic investigations to help and hurt Chinese companies and their competitors is starting to become a mainstay. The United States used the negative conclusions of its investigation into Chinese telecommunications company ZTE in order to cut off its export licenses, practically killing the company. While the U.S. has now started to walk back that threat by floating the option of a large fine, it is clear that these sorts of tit-for-tat investigations are going to continue into the future.