Archive

Archive for November, 2013

Private Equity Secondaries in China — PEI Magazine Whitepaper

November 19th, 2013 No comments

Secondaries

 

 

PEI Secondaries Cover

title2

 

 

 

 

Private equity dealflow continues to stall in China – but so far it hasn’t yet prompted the hoped-for explosion in secondary market activity

Secondaries specialists have been busy in Asia lately. While firms such as LGT Capital Partners and Paul Capital have been doing secondaries deals from Hong Kong since 2007, in the last 18 months other firms such as Greenpark Capital, AlpInvest Partners and Lexington Partners have all been enhancing their Asia presence.

So far, secondary market activity in Asia has been more of a gradual flow than a wave of deals. But the changing macroeconomic conditions are increasing pressure on GPs – and that could result in more opportunities, particularly in China. Asia’s largest and most attractive market is losing some of its shine, thanks to a sustained slowdown in annual GDP growth and a frozen IPO market that has left GPs holding assets that they need to exit.

“If you could do [secondaries] at this moment – wow,” says Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive of China First Capital. “In this market, some LPs could sell out for 10 cents on the dollar. For LP secondary buyers, it is nirvana: a distressed exit market, portfolios with solid growing businesses inside of them, and a group of somewhat distressed LPs. A lot of these LPs, even bigger ones who have their money in China, have lost faith.”

Click to Read Full Article
Click To Read Full PEI Whitepaper Report on Private Equity Secondaries

China’s Logistical Nightmare

November 13th, 2013 1 comment

China First Capital blog logistics in China

China is modeling itself after the wrong part of the American economy. The money, the rhetoric and the policies are all focused on trying to replicate America’s lead in high-technology and innovation. Instead, China would be long-term much better off and its citizens enjoy immediate higher living standards if it copied something far more mundane from the US,  its distribution and logistics.  If China’s $9 trillion economy has an Achilles Heel, this is it. It simply costs too much to get things into consumers’ hands.

Wholesale layer is piled onto wholesale layer, with margin and fees extracted at every step. Fixers, expediters, overlookers all take a cut. Trucks are too small, tolls too high, warehouses too small, and road traffic too congested in major cities. Commercial and retail rents are high, relative to per capita income level. In China, there is enough “friction” in every retail transaction to start a bonfire.

Logistical costs and bottlenecks are the single biggest reason why so many goods made in China are sold at higher prices than in the US. This has more real-world consequences for average Chinese consumers than the level of the dollar-Renminbi exchange rate. It is logistics costs, all the stickiness and expense of getting products to market, that is most to blame for holding back the buying power, and so spending impulses, of Chinese consumers. Middlemen live well in China. Consumers less so.

It is cheaper, in many cases, to get a product made in China onto a container ship in Shanghai, offload it in Long Beach, truck it across the US, and then stock it on a shelf at a Wal-Mart in Georgia then it is to put the same product in front of Chinese consumers in a Wal-Mart in China. High taxes don’t help. China’s VAT, applied to most things sold at retail,  is set at a higher level than most sales taxes in the US. Another factor: retail competition as Americans know it is also largely absent in China. Stores don’t compete much on price in China. Wal-Mart won’t say, but it’s a fair assumption its margins in China are at least double those in the US.

But, high consumer prices in China are mainly the product of the high handling charges. A simple example. I eat a lot of fruit.  Most fresh fruit grown in China costs as much or more in supermarkets here than the same fruit grown and sold in the US.

Apples sell for around Rmb 6 (95 cents) per pound and up in China. The apple farmer gets around Rmb 1 per pound. The rest is liberally spread among all those standing between apple tree and my mouth.

Adjusted for purchasing power, Chinese average income levels are around 1/6th the US’s. So, that Chinese apple sells for equivalent, in US terms, of $6 a pound. That amounts to a lot of money per apple being shared by people other than the grower and the eater. How much? Chinese eat a lot of apples. In fact, almost half of all apples grown in the world are eaten in China, ten times more than total US consumption.

I met the boss of one of China’s largest apple shipping and packaging companies. Outside of China, this is a razor-thin margin business. But, the Chinese apple packer and shipper has profit margins well above 10%.

One of the most expensive links in the Chinese domestic supply chain are road tolls. China’s are among the most costly, per kilometer traveled, anywhere in the world. Trucks carrying agricultural products don’t pay tolls. Anything else moving along China’s highway system pays full freight. Depending where you are in the country, tolls run as high as 25 cents a mile for passenger cars. Trucks pay triple that. It all, of course, ends up being passed along to consumers.

To amortize the tolls, truckers overload their vehicles. This burns more fuel, degrades roadways (justifying still higher tolls), and makes loading and unloading more time-consuming and so more costly. According to the boss of a large long-distance shipping company I talked to, his trucks are routinely pulled over by traffic police and made to pay various on-the-spot fines. This can double the amount paid in tolls.

Everything about the logistics industry in China acts as a sponge soaking up consumers’ cash. The one exception: Shunfeng Express (顺丰快递).  Little known outside China, Shunfeng Express is China’s most successful private shipping and delivery companies. It alone proves that logistics in China doesn’t need to be wasteful, expensive and inefficient.

Shunfeng is modeled after Fedex, DHL and UPS, but operates on a scale, and at prices, that would be unimaginable to these global giants. Shunfeng is a secretive outfit. Not much is publicly disclosed. The founder lives in Hong Kong, but comes originally from the mainland.  It was started in 1993, and according to some media reports, its net income in 2010 of Rmb 13 billion ($2.1 billion). That may be a stretch, but Shunfeng is doing a lot right and deserves whatever profit it keeps.

Shunfeng picks up and delivers documents, packages and some bulk freight between cities in China. It charges a fraction of what Fedex or UPS do in the US. These US companies are mainly prohibited to operate in China’s domestic delivery market. I’m not sure they’d be so eager. For next-day document delivery within a city, Shunfeng charges under $2. Delivery to other cities: $3. If you want to move a few kilos of freight, Shunfeng not only ship it, but will come and package it for you. That part is free. The shipping usually works out to less than $5 a kilo.

One of the main reasons Alibaba’s Taobao has become so successful in China is that Shunfeng ships Taobao purchases cheaply and efficiently across China. Taobao, which operates like a cross between Amazon Marketplace and eBay, will likely facilitate transactions worth around USD$100 billion this year. A lot of that will get shipped and delivered by Shunfeng.

They have an army of delivery guys. Most larger office buildings in major cities have one permanently stationed inside. You call for a pickup and the Shunfeng guy arrives within minutes. Most letters and packages get moved around by either electric motorcycle or jet. It leases its own aircraft to fly stuff around within China.

Shunfeng doesn’t do cross-country trucking. This is one big reason Shunfeng are so efficient and so cheap. Anything that moves by truck in China is going to have multiple hands in the till, and so end up costing consumers too much.

Shunfeng has achieved its massive scale and now well-known brand in China without raising capital from the stock market, or bringing in outside professional investors until three months ago. There are few private companies in China I admire more, and who are doing more to benefit the average consumer in China. I wish I could invest. For the good of every consumer in China, Shunfeng should continue to grow, continue to expand the range of what it handles in China. That will do a lot to unstick China’s logistical logjam.

 

 

Chinese IPOs Try to Make a Comeback in US — New York Times

November 4th, 2013 No comments

NYT

 

I.P.O./Offerings

Chinese I.P.O.’s Try to Make a Comeback in U.S.

BY NEIL GOUGH

HONG KONG — Chinese companies are trying to leap back into the United States stock markets.

The return, still in its early days and involving just a handful of companies, comes after several years of accounting scandals that pummeled their share prices and prompted scores of companies to delist from markets in the United States.

But the spate of recent activity suggests investors may be warming once more to Chinese companies that seek initial public offerings in the United States.

Qunar Cayman Islands, a popular travel website owned by Baidu, China’s leading search engine company, began trading on Nasdaq on Friday and nearly doubled in price. On Thursday, shares in 58.com, a Chinese classified ad website operator that is often compared to Craigslist, surged 42 percent on the first trading day in New York after its $187 million public offering.

The question now — for both American investors and the companies from China waiting in the wings to raise money from them — is whether these recent debuts are an anomaly or have truly managed to unfreeze a market that was once a top destination for Chinese companies seeking to list overseas.

Peter Fuhrman, chairman of China First Capital, an investment bank and advisory firm based in Shenzhen, China, said that for both sides, the recent signs of a détente between American investors and Chinese companies is “a matter of selectively hoping history repeats itself.”

“Not the recent history of Chinese companies dogged by allegations, and some evidence, of accounting fraud and other suspect practices,” he added. “Instead, the current group is looking back farther in history, to a time when some Chinese Internet companies with business models derived, borrowed or pilfered from successful U.S. companies were able to go public in the U.S. to great acclaim.”

That initial wave of Chinese technology listings began in 2000 with the I.P.O. of Sina.com and later featured companies like Baidu, which has been described as China’s answer to Google. In total, more than 200 companies from China achieved listings on American markets, raising billions of dollars through traditional public offerings or reverse takeovers.

But beginning about 2010, short-sellers and regulators started exposing what grew into a flurry of accounting scandals at Chinese companies with overseas listings. In some cases, such accusations have led to the filing of fraud charges by regulators or to the dissolution of the companies. Prominent examples include the Toronto-listed Sino-Forest Corporation, which filed for bankruptcy last year after Muddy Waters Research placed a bet against the company’s shares in 2011 and accused it of being a “multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.”

Concerns about companies based in China were reinforced in December when the United States Securities and Exchange Commission accused the Chinese affiliates of five big accounting firms of violating securities laws, contending that they had failed to produce documents from their audits of several China-based companies under investigation for fraud.

In response, American demand for new share offerings by Chinese companies evaporated, and investors dumped shares in Chinese companies across the board. It became so bad that the tide of listings reversed direction: Delistings by Chinese companies from American markets have outnumbered public offerings for the last two years.

Despite the renewed activity, it is too early to say whether Chinese stocks are back in favor. The listing by 58.com was only the fourth Chinese public offering in the United States this year, according to Thomson Reuters data. LightInTheBox, an online retailer, raised $90.7 million in a June listing but is trading slightly below its offering price. China Commercial Credit, a microlender, has risen 50 percent since it raised $8.9 million in August. And shares in the Montage Technology Group, based in Shanghai, have risen 41 percent since it raised $80.2 million in late September.

Still, this year’s activity is already an improvement from 2012, when only two such deals took place, according to figures from Thomson Reuters. Last month, two more Chinese companies — 500.com, an online lottery agent, and Sungy Mobile, an app developer — submitted initial filings for American share sales.

But the broader concerns related to Chinese companies have not gone away. In May, financial regulators in the United States and China signed a memorandum of understanding that could pave the way to increased American oversight of accounting practices at Chinese companies. But the S.E.C.’s case against the Chinese affiliates of the five big accounting firms remains in court.

The corporate structure of many Chinese companies is another unresolved area of concern. Because foreign companies and shareholders cannot own Internet companies in China, both 58.com and Qunar rely on a complex series of management and profit control agreements called variable interest entities. Whether such arrangements will stand up in court has been a cause for concern among foreign investors in Chinese companies.

And short-sellers continue to single out companies from China, often with great success.

In a report last month, Muddy Waters took aim at NQ Mobile, an online security company based in Beijing and listed in New York, accusing it of being “a massive fraud” and contending that 72 percent of its revenue from the security business in China last year was “fictitious.”

NQ Mobile has rejected the accusations, saying that the report contained “numerous errors of facts, misleading speculations and malicious interpretations of events.” The company’s shares have fallen 37 percent since the report was published.

(http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/chinese-i-p-o-s-attempt-a-comeback-in-u-s/?_r=1)
 
Download PDF version.