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Aptiv takes its self-driving car ambitions (and tech) to China

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Aptiv, Automation, Automotive, automotive industry, boston, China, Co-founder, Delphi, Emerging-Technologies, Karl Iagnemma, Las Vegas, Lyft, manufacturing, NuTonomy, pittsburgh, president, Robotics, self driving cars, shanghai, Singapore, transport, Transportation, United States | 0 comments

Aptiv, the U.S. auto supplier and self-driving software company, is opening an autonomous mobility center in Shanghai to focus on the development and eventual deployment of its technology on public roads.

The expansion marks the fifth market where Aptiv has set up R&D, testing or operational facilities. Aptiv has autonomous driving operations in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore. But China is perhaps its most ambitious endeavor yet.

Aptiv has never had any AV operations in China, but it does have a long history in the country including manufacturing and engineering facilities. The company, in its earlier forms as Delphi and Delco has been in China since 1993 — experience that will be invaluable as it tries to bring its autonomous vehicle efforts into a new market, Aptiv Autonomous Mobility President Karl Iagnemma told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“The long-term opportunity in China is off the charts,” Iagnemma said, noting a recent McKinsey study that claims the country will host two-thirds of the world’s autonomous driven miles by 2040 and be trillion-dollar mobility service opportunity.

“For Aptiv, it’s always been a question of not ‘if’, but when we’re going to enter the Chinese market,” he added.

Aptiv will have self-driving cars testing on public roads by the second half of 2019.

“Our experience in other markets has shown that in this industry, you learn by doing,” Iagnemma explained.

And it’s remark that Iagnemma can stand by. Iagnemma is the co-founder of self-driving car startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch a robotaxi service in 2016 in Singapore that the public—along with human safety drivers — could use.

NuTonomy was acquired by Delphi in 2017 for $450 million. NuTonomy became part of Aptiv after its spinoff from Delphi was complete.

Aptiv is also in discussions with potential partners for mapping and commercial deployment of Aptiv’s vehicles in China.

Some of those partnerships will likely mimic the types of relationships Aptiv has created here in the U.S., notably with Lyft . Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles operate on Lyft’s ride-hailing platform in Las Vegas and have provided more than 40,000 paid autonomous rides in Las Vegas via the Lyft app.

Aptiv will also have to create new kinds of partnerships unlike those it has in the U.S. due to restrictions and rules in China around data collection, intellectual property and creating high resolution map data.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Surging costs send shares of ecommerce challenger Pinduoduo down 17 percent

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in alibaba, alibaba group, Amazon, Asia, bytedance, China, e-book, E-Commerce, Earnings, eCommerce, online marketplaces, Qutoutiao, shanghai, supply chain, tiktok | 0 comments

China’s new tech force Pinduoduo is continuing its race to upend the ecommerce space, even at the expense of its finances. The three-year-old startup earmarked some big wins from the 2018 fiscal year, but losses were even greater, dragging its shares down 17 percent on Wednesday after the firm released its latest earnings results.

The Shanghai-based company is famous for offering cheap group deals and it’s able to keep prices down by sourcing directly from manufacturers and farmers, cutting out middleman costs. In 2018, the company saw its gross merchandise value, referring to total sales regardless of whether the items were actually sold, delivered or returned, jump 234 percent to 471.6 billion yuan ($68.6 billion). Fourth-quarter annual active buyers increased 71 percent to 418.5 million, during which monthly active users nearly doubled to 272.6 million.

These figures should have industry pioneers Alibaba and JD sweating. In the twelve months ended December 31, JD fell behind Pinduoduo with a smaller AAU base of 305 million. Alibaba still held a lead over its peers with 636 million AAUs, though its year-over-year growth was a milder 23 percent.

But Pinduoduo also saw heavy financial strain in the past year as it drifted away from becoming profitable. Operating loss soared to 10.8 billion ($1.57 billion), compared to just under 600 million yuan in the year-earlier period. Fourth-quarter operating loss widened a staggering 116 times to 2.64 billion yuan ($384 million), up from 22 million yuan a year ago.

Pinduoduo is presenting a stark contrast to consistently profitable Alibaba, which generates the bulk of its income from charging advertising fees on its marketplaces. This light-asset approach grants Alibaba wider profit margins than its arch-foe JD, which controls most of the supply chain like Amazon and makes money from direct sales. Pinduoduo seeks out a path similar to Alibaba’s and monetizes through marketing services, but its latest financial results showed that mounting costs have tempered a supposedly lucrative model.

Where did the ecommerce challenger spend its money? Pinduoduo’s total operating expenses from 2018 stood at 21 billion yuan ($3 billion), of which 13.4 billion yuan went to sales and marketing expenses such as TV commercials and discounts for users. Administration alongside research and development made up the remaining costs.

Pinduoduo’s spending spree recalls the path of another up-and-coming Chinese tech startup, Qutoutiao . Like Pinduoduo, Qutoutiao has embarked on a cash-intensive journey by burning billions of dollars to acquire users. The scheme worked, and Qutoutiao, which runs a popular news app and a growing e-book service, is effectively challenging ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) in smaller Chinese cities where many veteran tech giants lack dominance.

Offering ultra-cheap items is a smart bet for Pinduoduo to lock in price-intensive consumers in unpenetrated, smaller cities, but it’s way too soon to know whether this kind of expensive growth will hold out long-term.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Elon Musk says Tesla Model Y will be revealed at its LA design studio on March 14

Posted by on Mar 3, 2019 in California, Cars, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, Fremont, gigafactory, hyperloop, Los Angeles, Nevada, shanghai, TC, Tesla, Tesla Model S, Tesla Semi, The Boring Company | 0 comments

Tesla will pull back the curtains and unveil its Model Y crossover vehicle at an event in Los Angeles on March 14th, according to a tweet from chief executive Elon Musk.

It’s the fifth new car design to come from Tesla’s shop since the company was founded in 2003. Musk has been teasing the car’s release since 2015, and in a January letter to shareholders said that high volume production would begin by the end of 2020.

Tesla said that it would begin tooling for the Model Y later this year and that the company would be producing the vehicle at its “gigafactory” in Nevada. In the same letter, Musk predicted that the cost of the Model Y line would be substantially lower than the Model 3 line in Fremont, Calif., because it will share roughly 75% of the same components with the new low-cost vehicle.

Tesla’s Model Y reveal comes amid sweeping changes that the automaker announced last week in tandem with the commercial availability of its $35,000 low-cost Model 3.

Tesla said that to achieve this lower price it will shift all sales globally to online only, meaning the company will be closing many of its stores over the next few months. The stores that remain, in high-traffic locations, will be turned into information centers, Musk said on a call with reporters. There will be some layoffs as a result. Musk later said they would be hiring more service technicians.

“Shifting all sales online, combined with other ongoing cost efficiencies, will enable us to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average, allowing us to achieve the $35,000 Model 3 price point earlier than we expected,” the company wrote in a post.

Tesla’s management expects that all of these changes should result in better results for the company. “Model 3 will become a global product, the profitability of our business should become sustainably positive, our new Gigafactory Shanghai should start producing cars, and we will start tooling for Model Y production,” the January shareholder read.

If the Model Y were to finally go into production, it could mean a phase out of older Tesla models, although that’s not a certainty.

Tesla also has two other models that are waiting in the wings — the Roadster and the Tesla Semi, which are both under development.

As the Verge noted, Musk joked about unveiling the new Model Y on March 15th “because the Ides of March sounded good.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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As shared kitchens heat up, a China-based startup, Panda Selected, nabs $50 million led by Tiger Global

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Beijing, China, CloudKitchens, Hangzhou, Luckin Coffee, Panda Selected, Recent Funding, Restaurants, shanghai, shenzhen, Startups, TC, Tiger Global Management | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, we told you that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick looks to be partnering with the former COO of the bike-sharing startup Ofo, Yanqi Zhang, to bring his new L.A.-based company, CloudKitchens, to China. Kalanick didn’t respond to our request for more information, but according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), his plan is to provide local food businesses with real estate, facilities management, technology and marketing services.

He might want to move quickly. Kitchens that invite restaurants to share their space to focus on take-out orders is a concept that’s picking up momentum fast in China. And one company looks to have just assumed pole position in that race: Panda Selected, a Beijing-based shared-kitchen company that just raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from earlier backers DCM and Glenridge Capital. The round brings its total funding to $80 million.

Little wonder there’s a contest afoot. China’s food-delivery market is already worth $37 billion dollars, according to the SCMP, which says 256 million people in China used online food ordering services in 2016, and the number is expected to grow to 346 million this year.

And that’s still a little less than a quarter of the country’s population of 1.4 billion people.

Panda Selected is wasting little time in trying to reach them. While SCMP says that online delivery services already blanket 1,300 cities. Panda Selected, founded just three years ago, says it already operates 120 locations that cover China’s biggest centers, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. It claims to work with more than 800 domestic catering brands, including Luckin Coffee, Kungfu and TubeStation. The company also says that its kitchens are typically 5,000-square-feet in size and can accommodate up to 20 restaurants in each space.

With its new funding, it expects to double that number over the next eight months, too, its  founder, Haipeng Li, tells Bloomberg. That’s going to make it difficult to challenge, especially by any U.S.-based company, given overall relations between the two countries and the ever-changing regulatory environment in China.

Then again, this may be just the first inning. Stay tuned.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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WeWork could challenge Starbucks in China with new on-demand service

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in Asia, China, executive, Go, Luckin Coffee, mobile payments, naked hub, operating systems, qr code, Real Estate, real-time, Seattle, shanghai, social network, starbucks, WeChat, WeWork | 0 comments

The rise of Starbucks in China, like that in the west, is closely linked to its function as a “third space” for people to hang out between home and work. In recent years, a bevy of coffee entrepreneurs are trying to topple the American giant’s dominance in China and lately, an unexpected contender — WeWork — has joined their camp.

This month, the office tenant and workplace service provider launched WeWork Go, a new feature that allows China-based users to rent a desk by the minute so they are no longer tied to long-term leases. While Starbucks provides free accommodation and charges for coffee, WeWork flips the equation to offer free coffee and paid space. Starbucks is already being squeeze in China by emerging rival Luckin Coffee, a well-funded startup that explicitly pledges to take on the Seattle-based giant with a model that focuses on coffee delivery.

WeWork Go works a bit like other shared services, with an app that lets users check the occupancy of a list of offices in real time before they travel over. Upon arrival, users scan a QR code at the gate, pop the door open, get seated in the common area and the billing begins.

wework go china

WeWork Go available through a WeChat mini program. Screenshot: TechCrunch

The firm says it monitors traffic flow closely so the common space isn’t flooded with fleeting users. Booking private rooms require additional fees. Go claims to have picked up 50,000 registered users so far after piloting for three months across an inventory of 18 locations in Shanghai, where WeWork nestles its China headquarters.

Made for China

Instead of building a native app, WeWork Go operates via a WeChat mini program, a form of a stripped-down app that works within China’s largest social network. Mini programs are an increasingly popular way for startups to trial ideas thanks to their relative ease to develop. “[Go] is a key development of our China localization,” a WeWork spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Go is tailoring to the so-called “part-time users.” “These people would not purchase the monthly membership. They would work at home or a coffee shop, restaurant, or library,” Dominic Penaloza, who heads innovation and technology at WeWork China, told TechCrunch. He first conceptualized the on-demand workplace service at Naked Hub, a smaller local rival WeWork China bought out for $400 million last year. After the merger, the executive alongside his tech team joined WeWork and continued with the project that would later become Go.

The pay-as-you-go feature is also getting rolled out stateside at a new Manhattan location last week.

Penaloza admits Go could be competing with coffee shops for it offers “an alternative type of the third space for freelancers, mobile workers, business travellers or those who want to briefly step aside from their offices for a mental break.” The obvious target is Starbucks, which commands a whopping 51 percent share of the country’s booming coffee market.

Made for WeWork

For WeWork, Go serves as a trial for those deciding whether to sign on monthly subscriptions. What they are weighing is the 1,830 yuan ($271) price tag for a hotdesk in downtown Shanghai. By comparison, Go starts at 15 yuan and goes up to 30 yuan an hour at more prime locations, offering the same perks as the full-time hotdesking plan, which includes access to common spaces, beverages and wifi.

Users can do their math. “If you started as a WeWork Go member, and if you use our service quite a lot, you will realize it’s much more economical to purchase monthly subscriptions. WeWork Go enables WeWork to reach an entirely new market segment,” suggests Penaloza.

The flexible pricing may help WeWork — which generates the bulk of its revenues from large corporations — reach a wider user base. The shared office industry in China has entered what real-estate researcher Jones Lang LaSalle calls the “second phase,” with big firms moving into premium workplaces like WeWork and local player Soho 3Q. Cash-strapped startups, on the other hand, increasingly turn to government-backed incubators for lower costs.

wework china

Photo: WeWork China

Several early users of Go told TechCrunch they found the service delivering a “quieter” and “more comfortable” vibe than most cafes, but distance is key when they are in a rush. WeWork currently has about 60 locations across a dozen major Chinese cities, whereas Starbucks reaches a dense network of 3,330 stores and is shooting for 6,000 by the end of 2022. WeWork China got a boost for locations with the Naked Hub acquisition last year and says it’s open to adding third-party spaces such as restaurants into its inventory, though it has not taken a solid step towards that vision.

“There is a very interesting opportunity in the really downtown area, where WeWork locations and Naked Hub locations are quite full starting from after lunch until 5 pm,” notes Penaloza. “What’s amazing is that restaurants around those locations are quite empty at exactly the same time, so there’s a fascinating opportunity there but we haven’t done anything about it yet.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Chinese stocks plummet as Huawei CFO arrest raises trade fears

Posted by on Dec 6, 2018 in Asia, China, Hardware, Honor, Huawei, Iran, Meng Wanzhou, Mobile, North Korea, Ren Zhengfei, shanghai, Shanghai Stock Exchange, shenzhen, us government, zte | 0 comments

A string of Chinese stocks fell hard on Thursday after the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver deepened concerns over US-China trade tensions.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong was off 2.76 percent as of 12:40 p.m. On the Mainland side, the CSI 300 index of the top 300 stocks trading in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell 2.1 percent. The US stock market is closed Wednesday to honor former US President George H.W. Bush.

The crash arrived after Canadian officials detained Meng, daughter of Huawei’s founder and chief executive officer Ren Zhengfei, on suspicion that Huawei has violated American sanctions on Iran. Meng is facing extradition to the US.

Shares of Huawei’s main rival ZTE nosedived nearly 6 percent in Hong Kong by midday. Meng’s news also hit the suppliers of employee-owned Huawei across the Asian stock markets. Among the worst performers is Shennan Circuit, which slipped nearly 10 percent in Shenzhen as of this writing.

zte stock huawei

Huawei and its main rival ZTE have been targets of the US government that worries about the alleged ties between the telecom equipment makers and the Chinese governemnt. The US’s ban on ZTE sparks concerns that Huawei will face a similar fate. In April, the US Department of Commerce announced a seven-year ban that would restrict American component makers from selling to ZTE, which in 2017 pleaded guilty to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

Chinese stocks had been on a downward trend prior to Meng’s arrest as a result of rising US tarrifs over the last few months. In October, the Shanghai benchmark index dropped to a four-year low.

Updated with charts on HSCEI and ZTE.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Meituan, China’s ‘everything app’, walks away from bike sharing and ride hailing

Posted by on Nov 23, 2018 in alibaba, Asia, carsharing, China, didi, Didi Chuxing, driver, Ele.me, Food, Meituan, Meituan-Dianping, mobike, Nanjing, ofo, shanghai, Softbank, Tencent, transport, Transportation, Uber | 0 comments

A major player in the race to transport Chinese people around is losing steam. Meituan Dianping, the Tencent-backed all-encompassing platform for local services, continues to put the brakes on bike-sharing and ride-hailing, the company said on its earnings call on Thursday.

The eight-year-old firm is best known for competing with Alibaba-owned Ele.me in food deliveries — the segment that makes up the majority of its sales — and hotel booking, but it’s aggressively branched into various fronts like transportation.

In April, Meituan entered the bike-sharing fray after it scooped up top player Mobike for $2.7 billion to face off Alibaba-backed Ofo. Over the past few years, Mobike and Ofo were burning through large sums of investor money in a bid to win users from subsidized rides, but both have shown signs of softening their stance recently

Mobike is downsizing its fleets to “avoid an oversupply” as the bike-sharing market falters, Meituan’s chief financial officer Chen Shaohui said during the earnings call. Ofo has also scaled back by closing down many of its international operations.

In the meantime, Meituan said it has no plans to expand car-hailing beyond its two piloting cities — Shanghai and Nanjing — after venturing into the field to take on Didi Chuxing last December. The update is consistent with what the firm announced in its prospectus ahead of a blockbuster $4.2 billion initial public offering in Hong Kong this September.

The halt is likely related to changing dynamics in the country’s shared rides. Following two passenger murders on Didi, the Softbank-backed transportation platform that took over Uber China in 2016, Chinese regulators launched their strictest verification requirements for drivers across all ride-hailing apps. The mandate has squeezed driver numbers, making it harder to hire rides on Didi and its competitors.

During its third quarter that ended September 30, Meituan posted a 97.2 percent jump on revenues to 19.1 billion yuan, or $2.75 billion, on the back of strong growth in food delivery transactions. The firm’s investments in new initiatives – including ride-hailing and bike-sharing – took a toll as operating losses nearly tripled to 3.45 billion yuan compared to a year ago. Meituan shares plunged as much as 14 percent on Friday, the most since its spectacular listing.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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WeWork is getting serious about China

Posted by on Nov 21, 2018 in Asia, Beijing, China, coworking, naked hub, Real Estate, shanghai, shenzhen, Softbank, ucommune, WeWork, wework labs | 0 comments

Since its entry into China in 2016, WeWork has extended from four to around 60 locations across the country’s megacities like Shanghai, Beijing, and most recently, Shenzhen.

That’s one-sixth of WeWork’s 360 locations worldwide. It’s also equivalent to what WeWork has achieved in its early five to six years globally, Sern Hong Yu, regional head of project delivery at WeWork China, said at TechCrunch Shenzhen recently.

“Next year, it will be even faster,” he added, without revealing the exact number of offices that will open.

The executive confirmed that China will be one of WeWork’s fastest growing region and much of that boom will come from the rising number of enterprise clients.

While the coworking titan strives to redefine office spaces for old-school companies, these larger corporations are presumably a more reliable income source than long-shot early-stage startups.

But Yu said WeWork is also supporting nascent companies. The office operator runs a program called WeWork Labs that gives startups discounted desk space, an educational program, and mentorship without taking stakes in them.

The incubator is just one facet of WeWork’s expanding ventures. It’s been keen to distinguish itself from a pure coworking space. Besides offices, it manages a raft of ventures around the world that include shared apartments, wellness complexes, and even wave pools, all based on the tenet of “make a life, not a living.”

When it comes to China, WeWork says this package of services could help combat the country’s notorious “996” work regime, an acronym short for working from 9 am to 9 pm for six days a week.

“A lot of people like the [WeWork] workplace so much that stay longer than usual,” Yu said. “But in the meantime, we do remind them of the work-life balance.”

The American giant envisages a future where it exists in every other block down the street. But it has some serious contestants in China.

UCommune, which rebranded from UrWork after WeWork sued it over the name similarity, is one of them. The rival is founded by Chinese real-estate veteran Mao Daqing and claims to operate more than 200 co-working spaces across the world, most of which are in China.

WeWork and UCommune have emerged as the dominant forces in China’s coworking market after each grabbed sizable fundings in recent months. Shortly after Ucommune raised $200 million in November, WeWork scored a $3 billion warrant from SoftBank. The rivals have also been in an acquisition race. This year, Ucommune scooped up a number of small rivals and WeWork spent $400 million to pick up main competitor Naked Hub.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Starbucks partners with Alibaba on coffee delivery to boost China business

Posted by on Aug 2, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, Apps, Asia, Beijing, China, E-Commerce, Ele.me, hema, JD.com, Meituan-Dianping, online marketplaces, Retail, shanghai, starbucks, taobao, Tmall, United States | 0 comments

Starbucks is palling up with Alibaba as it seeks to rediscover growth for its business in China.

China has been a bright spot for some time for the U.S. coffee giant, but lately it has struggled to maintain growth — its China business dragged on its Q3 financials — and it is up against some ambitious new rivals, including billion-dollar startup Luckin Coffee.

One-year-old Luckin recently raised $200 million from investors and it has already built quite a presence. It claims over 500 outlets across China and it taps into the country’s mobile trends, with mobile payments and orders and delivery, too. Then there are some deep discounts aimed at getting new users, as is common with food, cars and other on-demand services.

In response, Starbucks is injecting some of that ‘New Retail’ strategy into its own China presence — and it is doing so with none other than Alibaba, the company that coined the phrase, which signifies a marriage between online and offline commerce.

The partnership between Alibaba and Starbucks is wide-ranging and it will cover delivery, a virtual store and collaboration on Alibaba’s “new retail” Hema stores.

The delivery piece is perhaps most obvious, and it’ll see Starbucks work with Ele.me, the $9.5 billion food delivery platform owned by Alibaba, to allow customers to order and receive coffee without visiting a store. The service will start in September in Beijing and Shanghai, with plans to expand to 30 cities and over 2,000 stores by the end of this year.

Starbucks is also building its app into Alibaba’s array of e-commerce sites, including its Tmall brand e-mall and Taobao marketplace. That’s a move that Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson told CNBC would operate “similar to the mobile app embedded right into that experience” and open Starbucks up to Alibaba’s 500 million-plus users.

Finally, Starbucks is bringing its own “Starbucks Delivery Kitchens” to Alibaba’s Hema stores, which feature robots and mobile-based orders, that will combine Starbucks stores to boost its delivery capacity and speed.

Starbucks, as mentioned, needed a boost in China but the deal is also a major coup for Alibaba, which is battling JD.com on the new retail front as well as ambitious on-demand service Meituan. The latter is reported to have recently filed for an IPO in Hong Kong that could raise it $4 billion.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The dramatic rise and fall of online P2P lending in China

Posted by on Aug 2, 2018 in Asia, Bank, Banking, China, credit, economy, Finance, Hangzhou, internet penetration, loans, money, online lending, p2p, peer to peer, peer-to-peer lending, shanghai, social networks, TC, United Kingdom | 0 comments

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

When Emily Zhang was interning with a peer-to-peer (P2P) lending firm in the Summer of 2016, her main task was to carry out research on other P2P lending firms. She found the rates of return tempting and some underlying assets reliable, so she decided to invest in the market herself. Until now, none of her investments have matured, but she worries about whether she can actually withdraw her profits, much less get back the principal.

Even so, Zhang considers herself lucky that the companies that sold her the assets are still in business while many other P2P companies have collapsed, leaving their investors in despair.

Stories have been circulating across Chinese social networks about desperate investors who have lost their life savings. Zhang Xue, for instance, a 47-year old single mother with a 13-year-old son, was reported to have lost the 3.8 million RMB her husband left her with when he died of a heart attack. “I am totally desperate. 3.8 million RMB. It’s finished, all finished,”” she told local media.

Some of those affected protested in front of police stations and chanted the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers, in an effort to pressure authorities. Others organized online investor rights groups, making a collective effort to get the money back. Together, the protesters made headlines in domestic media and sparked intense online debates on who is responsible for the losses and where the industry is heading.

P2P lending, or online lending, is generally considered as a method of debt financing that directly connects borrowers, whether they are individuals or companies, with lenders. The world’s first online lending platform, Zopa, was founded in the UK in 2005. China’s online lending industry has seen rapid growth since 2007 without significant regulation.

Default rates have been soaring since June. In May, only 10 platforms were considered in trouble. But by June, that number had increased to 63. By the end of July, 163 platforms were on the concern list. The Home of Online Lending (网贷之家), a platform that compiles the data, defines ‘troubled’ as companies that have difficulty paying off investors, have been investigated by national economic crime investigation department, or whose owners have run away with investors’ money.

One of the key factors contributing to the sudden surge is the national P2P rectification campaign that was supposed to have been finished by June. “The due date of rectification has passed, but many P2P platforms have not met the requirements. Strict regulations have propelled a break-out of the compliance issues,” Shen Wei, Dean and Professor of Law at Shangdong University Law School, told TechNode.

In late 2017, the platforms were asked to register with local authorities by June 2018, according to China Banking Regulatory Commission, which has now merged with China’s insurance regulator to become China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Shen said the main purpose of the regulations is to restrict P2P lending platforms to be information intermediaries only, matching borrowers and investors. Under such regulations, the platforms are not allowed to pool funds from investors or grant loans to any client or provide any credit services, which most of the platforms were doing when they first started.

The rise of P2P lending in China

China’s first online lending platform, PPDAI Group (拍拍货), launched in 2007 and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in late 2017. The industry has gone through rapid growth since then. In January 2016, there were 3,383 platforms in business with combined monthly transactions reaching 130 billion RMB, according to Home of Online Lending.
In a recent research paper, Robin Hui Huang, professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, attributed the increase of P2P in China to three factors: a high 56 percent rate of internet penetration by 2018, a large supply of available funds from investors, and financial demands of small-to-medium-sized companies that cannot be satisfied by the existing banking system.

P2P lending is a tempting and easy investment option because the loans usually promise 8-12 percent interest rates, according to Home of Online Lending, of which many mature within a year, much higher than the 2.75 percent rate for three-year fixed deposits found at most banks.

P2P lending is also friendlier to smaller businesses since major banks in China generally prefer state-owned enterprises or large companies. Huang cited a joint 2016 report by the Development Bank of Singapore and Ernst & Young, that only 20-25 percent of bank loans went to small to medium-size enterprises, even though they accounted for 60 percent of China’s gross domestic product.

China’s financial system is still dominated by banks, especially the established ‘Big Four’ — the Bank of China, China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Ryan Roberts, a research analyst at MCM Partners, told TechNode that about 70 percent of the banks’ loans are commercial loans, with just 30 percent for individuals.

Unresolved regulations

Before the government first signaled regulations in 2016, the P2P lending industry aggressively expanded. Compared with the current defaulting scandals, the situation back then wasn’t any better.

By the end of 2015, there were 1,031 total troubled platforms out of 3,448 platforms still in operation. So, on average, one out of four was problematic. Chinese media reported on a number of Ponzi scheme stories concerning dubious platforms that tempted would-be investors with fat bonuses for referring family and friends, too.

Despite the fact that there was no established regulatory framework, the government was watching. Since mid-2015, a series of announcements set the stage for China’s first regulatory instrument for online lending in August 2016. Called Interim Measures on Administration of Business Activities of Online Lending Information Intermediaries, violations of its articles can lead to administrative or even criminal penalties.

The interim measures set the business scope of the platforms to be mere information intermediaries. It also asked all platforms to set up custody accounts with commercial banks for investor and borrower funds held by the platforms in order to reduce the risks that platform owners abscond with funds. The measures require online lending platforms to register with their local financial regulatory authority.

Later, a specific timeline was set for the implementation. Provincial government agencies were told to complete general investigations into local P2P platforms by July 2016 and formulate regulatory policies based on regional conditions. Overall rectification and registration should have been completed by June 2018, the latest.

It’s August now and, obviously, the work still isn’t finished. Huang said the measures, in general, have covered all the factors of the industry that should be regulated, but when it came to implementation, all we really saw was a delay.

“It’s good that the measures are carried out locally, which means that local government can develop policies in line with local conditions,” Huang explained to us. However, in order to attract more capital locally, local authorities have engaged in a race to the bottom, competing with one and another to have the loosest regulations, and therefore, have been hesitant to finalize them.

Moreover, the general public has a different understanding of the registration process. “Registering with local authorities doesn’t mean that local governments have recognized or will guarantee the legitimacy and quality of platforms. However, in reality, the public seems to perceive registration as official assurance,” Huang said. This has lead to very cautious approaches from government agencies towards the whole registration project since they don’t intend to be held responsible for the fallout or future wrongdoings of the P2P firms.

The concern is quite reasonable. Huoq.com—a P2P lending platform launched in December 2016 and backed by state-owned enterprises—announced on July 11, 2018, that it went into liquidation. The platform is owned by Dingxi Zhuoyue Online Lending Information Intermediary. One-third of Dingxi is owned by Xinjiang Tianfu Lanyu Optoelectronics Technology while Tianfu Lanyu itself is partly owned by a state-owned company in Xinjiang. On July 10, however, owners of the platform disappeared. Neither the company nor investors were able to locate them.

Their still-functioning official site doesn’t show the slightest sign of liquidation, displaying various certificates and recognition from government agencies and industry associations. A banner at the bottom of their mobile app icon still says “Central enterprises are our majority shareholders.”

The unresolved regulations are also affecting P2P lending companies listed overseas. Shares of PPDAI plummeted to $4.77 as of July 30 from $13.08 when it was first traded in late 2017. The stock price of Yirendai (宜人贷), the first Chinese online lending company to go public overseas, dropped to $19.33 compared with $38.26 the same period last year.

That the shares of these companies don’t trade well indicates that investors are skeptical towards the business, said Roberts. With the ongoing regulations, it’s still possible that regulators can outlaw and ban their businesses, he explained. Some borrowers even take advantage of the unsettled regulation and stop paying back their loans, in the hopes that the platform they have borrowed from would fail, Roberts added.

Buyer beware

In June 2018, 17.8 billion RMB worth of transactions took place on China’s P2P lending platforms and outstanding loan balance reached 1.3 trillion RMB. The number looks insignificant if compared with 1.8 trillion RMB in net new bank loans in June alone.

However, they have made quite a splash. Victims of the troubled online lending platforms gathered in Hangzhou in early July, filling two of the largest local sports stadiums, which the local government had set up as temporary complaint centers.

“One of the reasons why the current wave of defaults has drawn so much attention is that many troubled platforms were pretty big,” Huang said. Some of the platforms violated the rules, pooling funds illegally, and some were suffering from China’s slowing economic growth and the ongoing deleveraging campaigns.

P2P lending has helped fund small-to-medium-sized enterprises in some way, but in general, the role it plays in the financial system is limited, said Shen. Most of the P2P investors are speculative and they themselves should be responsible for their losses, he added.

“If the rate of return exceeds 6 percent, investors should be alert; if it is more than 8 percent, the investment is very risky, and if it’s more than 10 percent, investors should prepare themselves for losing all their capital,” said Guo Shuqing, chairmen of China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission at a finance forum in June in Shanghai, referring to financial scams that lure investors in with high returns.

Although P2P lending is only a relatively small piece in China’s financial industry, there are still concerns that the collapse of these platforms should trigger systematic risks, Shen said. This also implied that Chinese investors have very limited investment options.

According to research by China International Capital Corporation, experts predicted only 10 percent of the current P2P lending companies, less than 200, could still be in business after three years.

Zhang said P2P lending needs regulations because many platforms are not innocent. “P2P platforms have high moral hazards and it’s really easy to fake borrowers’ information. However, I believe the government is supportive towards the industry and some platforms will survive till the end,” said Zhang. “I just wish I can be lucky enough to pick the right one.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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