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From: Glenn Petersen7/14/2017 3:19:30 PM
1 Recommendation   of 625
Why You Should Look to China for the Future of Retail

Chinese companies have been weaving together the online and offline worlds, trying for an ever more seamless fit

By Li Yuan
The Wall Street Journal
Updated July 13, 2017 8:48 p.m. ET

Shoppers at a cashierless BingoBox convenience store in Shanghai last month. Venture capitalists consider such stores a hot retail experiment. Photo: Wang gang/Imaginechina/Associated Press

The retail industry is in a state of flux. American retail stores are shutting at a record pace. is experimenting with new formats for brick-and-mortar stores and its $13.7 billion deal for Whole Foods Market is seen as a sign of accelerating change.

For a glimpse of the future, U.S. retailers and e-commerce companies should take a look at China, which is already a big test lab.

Chinese companies have been busy weaving together the online and offline worlds, trying for an ever more seamless fit. Convenience stores that have no sales assistants or cashiers are popping up in big cities. E-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding BABA +1.08% and its rival JD 0.80% have poured money into department stores and grocery chains.

Alibaba is launching fresh-produce grocery stores in the Whole Foods vein, with the first 13 open in three cities. There, customers can order, eat in, take out and arrange for groceries to be delivered to their homes—all done by phone. No cash or credit cards. Only Alibaba’s affiliated payment app, Alipay, is accepted.

Joe Tsai, Alibaba executive vice chairman, explained the virtues in a recent call with investors: “So now the store knows your preferences and can give you a personalized selection of products on your mobile app no matter where you are. It knows you and can predict your needs.”

To do this, companies are creating efficiencies by integrating payment systems and streamlining inventory and delivery. More important, investors say, it is the gathering of data on consumer habits that is crucial: It creates opportunities for retailers to cater to customer needs and leverage sales online and offline.

“China has about the most fertile soil for testing out new formats of retail,” says Zhang Ying, a partner at Sinovation Ventures, which has invested in the unmanned-convenience-store startup F5 Future Store.

Chinese e-commerce giants’ offline acquisitions and presence


  • 28% stake in listed department-store chain Intime Retail Group Co. with plans to take it private
  • Nearly 20% stake in consumer-electronics chain Suning Commerce Group Co.
  • 35% stake in grocery chain Sanjiang Shopping Club Co.
  • 18% stake in Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co.
  • Launched Hema Xiansheng, a fresh-produce grocery chain
  • 10% stake in Chinese supermarket chain Yonghui Superstores Co. Ltd.
  • Opened a “experience center,” where customers can test products, in a Wal-Mart store in Shenzhen
  • Plans to open one million JD convenience stores and 5,000 baby and mom “experience stores”
  • _________________

    China is an ideal market for experimenting because its traditional banking and retail industries are weak. A generation ago, stores had little to offer and service to match—legacies of the planned economy. Credit cards, nonexistent back then, still aren’t common, while smartphones are everywhere.

    China’s e-commerce market is now bigger than those of the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, France and South Korea combined, according to consultancy McKinsey. Meanwhile, sales growth for China’s top 100 brick-and-mortar retailers fell to zero or contracted in the past three years, from double-digit growth only five years earlier, according to the official China National Commercial Information Center.

    Chinese also have rapidly taken to using their smartphones to make payments and to scanning QR codes, those waffle-patterned bar codes that can be affixed to goods or store shelves. Roughly 67% of China’s 731 million internet users used mobile-payment technology in 2016, according to government data, and half did so in physical stores.

    True, the e-commerce companies are going offline because they need to. As big as China’s e-commerce industry is, sales of online merchandise made up only 13% of the total last year. And the growth of online merchandise sales has slowed from 50% in 2014 to 33% in 2015 and 26% last year.

    Companies and investors say that the more data retailers collect on online and offline spending, the more accurate their customer profiles can be—and the more targeted their offerings. Two consumers who purchase the same toilet paper, for example, could have vastly different income levels—and thus greatly differ in what they spend on other products and services.

    For venture capitalists, the hottest retail experiment is the cashierless convenience store. In recent weeks, GGV Capital announced an investment in startup Bingobox and Sinovation did so in F5. Alibaba unveiled a cashierless convenience-store concept last weekend. Amazon’s version, Amazon Go, has been delayed by technical glitches; its high-tech system of cameras, sensors and algorithms to track customers got overwhelmed when more than 20 people were in the test store at one time.

    While the Chinese ones are in testing mode, too, they are still being rolled out, fixing bugs as they go. F5 is upgrading its cooking machine to reduce the time to prepare food. BingoBox had to shut a store in Shanghai this month because the indoor temperature was so high the doughnuts melted.

    The attraction for investors is scale. Convenience stores are the fastest-growing category of retail, driven by younger consumers more willing to pay for convenience than their cost-conscious elders. The consumer-profile data, says Sinovation’s Mr. Zhang, could be more valuable than the food and drink sales.

    At an F5 outlet in the southern city of Guangzhou recently, 24-year-old Carson Zhang ordered a bowl of hot noodles with balls of minced fish for 10 yuan ($1.47) by clicking an image on a screen. He paid by scanning his smartphone, waited for about one minute for the food to be delivered by a robotic arm to a pickup point and ate at a counter. “I came to the convenience store for convenience, not human interaction,” the pharmaceutical salesman said as he left to catch a movie.

    —Follow Li Yuan on Twitter @LiYuan6 or write to

    Write to Li Yuan at

    Appeared in the July 14, 2017, print edition as 'In Retail, China Serves as a Test Lab.'

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    From: hollyhunter7/16/2017 10:31:45 PM
       of 625
    On watch for clear above 152.25.

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    From: Glenn Petersen8/2/2017 2:56:24 PM
       of 625
    Wifi-equipped robots triple work efficiency at the warehouse of the world's largest online retailer

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    From: JakeStraw8/15/2017 1:05:50 PM
       of 625
    Alibaba Group Holding Limited had its price target raised by analysts at Stifel Nicolaus from $165.00 to $180.00.

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    From: Julius Wong8/17/2017 8:20:51 AM
       of 625
    The favorite tech stock of hedge fund heavy hitters like David Tepper just hit a new all-time high

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    To: Paul Senior who wrote (504)8/17/2017 10:25:41 AM
    From: Paul Senior
       of 625
    I up my few shares a little on today's good news.

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    From: JakeStraw8/18/2017 11:49:59 AM
       of 625
    Alibaba Group Holding Limited had its price target raised by analysts at Royal Bank Of Canada from $160.00 to $185.00. They now have an "outperform" rating on the stock.

    Alibaba Group Holding Limited had its price target raised by analysts at J P Morgan Chase & Co to $205.00. They now have an "overweight" rating on the stock.

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    From: Julius Wong8/19/2017 9:19:35 PM
       of 625
    Alibaba short sellers battered after stock soars to record high

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    From: Glenn Petersen9/4/2017 7:16:42 AM
       of 625
    Ant Financial, controlled by Jack Ma, is an affiliate of Alibaba. Its value has been estimated to be in the range of $70 to $100 billion.

    Alibaba is entitled to 37.5 percent of Ant Financial’s pretax earnings based on a deal the two struck in the run-up to Alibaba’s 2014 IPO. Ant Financial paid the e-commerce giant about 2.09 billion yuan in royalty and technology fees in fiscal 2017, up about 86 percent from the previous year, according to the Alibaba filing.

    Officially named Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., the company is one of Ma’s most closely watched assets, and tightly linked to Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce operator. Alibaba is entitled to about one-third of Ant Financial upon its market debut -- with regulatory approval -- a potential boost for Alibaba’s shareholders.

    An alternative option would be for Alibaba to receive a one-time payment equivalent to 37.5 percent of the value of Ant Financial as determined prior to its IPO, which could amount to $28 billion: CLSA analyst Elinor Leung estimated in September that Ant was worth $74.5 billion.

    Alipay rolls out world’s first ‘Smile to Pay’ facial recognition system at KFC outlet in Hangzhou

    Amanda Lee
    PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 3:12pm
    UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 4:40pm

    Alipay today launched its facial recognition payment solution at KFC’s new KPRO restaurant in Hangzhou. SCMP Pictures (UNDATED HANDOUT)

    Ant Financial, which operates the Alipay electronic payment platform used in Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall online shopping sites, has rolled out the world’s first commercial application of a payment system that identifies payers using facial-recognition technology.

    At KPRO, a new KFC restaurant that serves salads, paninis and fresh juice instead of deep-fried chicken in Alibaba’s home base of Hangzhou, customers can authenticate their payments by having their faces scanned.

    The “Smile to Pay” application takes just one to two seconds to recognise and identify a face, which follows the scan with a second verification through a mobile phone, according to Ant Financial. The technology is fully insured, and users of Alipay can disable or enable the feature any time.

    A video provided by Ant Financial, which bought a stake in the China-based KFC and Pizza Hut fast food restaurants business last year from Yum! Brands for US$460 million along with Primavera Capital, shows customers being accurately identified, even though they were in disguise using make-up or wearing wigs.

    “Combined with 3D cameras and likeness detection algorithm, ‘Smile to Pay’ can effectively block spoofing attempts using other people’s photos or video recordings,” said Chen Jidong, Ant Financial’s director of biometric identification technology.

    The roll out of Ant Financial’s “Smile to Pay” function, powered by the Face ++ technology developed by Beijing start-up Megvii, underscores how China, with the world’s largest population and a headlong embrace of mobile internet technology, is becoming the latest testing ground for new applications and services.

    China’s has been a front runner in both the developing and applying facial recognition technology for commercial use, a trend that’s been untouched by technology companies in the United States, due to tighter US laws governing the collection of biometric data. An airport in Nanyang city in Henan province has installed a check-in system that augments a boarding pass with a facial recognition system developed by Baidu, operator of China’s dominant internet search engine. Similar plans are afoot for the Beijing airport.

    Alipay already has more than half the share of China’s US$5.5 trillion market for mobile payments, while Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall are the biggest e-commerce and online shopping platforms on the market. Alibaba is also the owner of the South China Morning Post.

    Alibaba’s founder and chairman Jack Ma Yun demonstrated Ant Financial’s “Smile to Pay” function for German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the 2015 CEBIT exhibition in Hanover. Facial recognition is one of hottest technology trend in China.

    Ant Financial’s facial recognition technology was licensed from Megvii. Other companies like Didi Chuxing, the dominant Chinese ride-sharing company, uses Face++ to verify the identities of its 1.35 million drivers, while Meitu uses it to enhance its photo-retouching features.

    Megvii raised US$100 million from investors CCB International and Foxconn Technology during its last funding round in December, according to a report by Bloomberg.

    This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:
    Alipay launches world’s first smile-to-pay system

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    From: Glenn Petersen9/9/2017 10:24:10 PM
    1 Recommendation   of 625
    Altaba (formerly Yahoo) owns a 15% stake in BABA. It is looking to unwind that position in 2018.

    h/t Sr K

    Altaba’s Endgame Could Reward Investors Nicely

    The former Yahoo! trades at a 30% discount to the value of its assets, including a 15% stake in Alibaba. Management is aiming to close the gap.

    By Andrew Bary Biography
    Sept. 8, 2017 11:29 p.m. ET

    Under CEO Jack Ma, Alibaba could buy Altaba in a tax-free exchange. Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Alibaba Group Holding is having a stellar year. Shares of the Chinese e-commerce leader have risen 95% in 2017 to a recent $170, giving the company a market value of $437 billion. The stock added to its gains after management, headed by CEO Jack Ma, announced better-than-expected results in mid-August for the June quarter, including a 56% increase in revenue and a 65% jump in adjusted earnings per share.

    A cheap way to play Alibaba (ticker: BABA) is through Altaba (AABA), the former Yahoo!, whose 15% stake in Alibaba is valued at $65 billion. That’s more than Altaba’s entire market value of $57 billion.

    Altaba shares are up 65% this year, to about $64, on Alibaba’s big gains, but trade at a 30% discount to the value of the company’s assets (see table). These include the Alibaba stake; a 36% interest in Yahoo Japan, worth around $9 billion; net cash of $8 billion; and a patent portfolio worth about $700 million. There are some potential liabilities stemming from data breaches at Yahoo! a few years ago, but they aren’t expected to be significant. Barron’s has written positively about Altaba this year, including in a Follow-Up on July 1, when the shares traded around $54.

    After Yahoo! sold its core business in June to Verizon Communications VZ -0.19480519480519481% Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) for $4.5 billion, the company morphed into a New York–based investment concern and changed its name to Altaba. Its goal probably is to wind down its assets and realize as much value as possible for shareholders. The challenge is doing so in a way that preserves most of the value for holders.

    The current discount to net asset value reflects several issues, chiefly investor concerns about potential taxes imposed and concessions that could be required in order to unwind the equity interests, mainly in Alibaba, which accounts for more than 75% of Altaba’s asset value. It is uncertain how long the process will take; many investors in Yahoo!/Altaba want to see the situation resolved by the end of 2018.

    Altaba will probably not realize its full net asset value due to the cost of unwinding the equity stakes. But, bulls argue, the discount is too steep.

    “Management at Altaba is singularly focused on creating shareholder value,” says Jeff Lignelli, a portfolio manager at Incline Global Management, a New York investment firm that holds Altaba shares. “We expect a large share buyback to help close the discount, and a tax-efficient sale of the Yahoo Japan stake, followed by the ultimate transaction: a share swap with Alibaba.”

    He values Altaba at about $77, assuming a 20% discount on the Alibaba stake and a 10% discount on Yahoo Japan. Lignelli is bullish on Alibaba, calling it one of the fastest-growing megacap companies in the world. He thinks Alibaba shares could top $200.

    Robert Willens, a New York tax expert, also thinks the discount to net asset value is too wide. “I’m convinced that Altaba will be able to dispose of or monetize its holdings on a tax-efficient basis,” he says. “The market is seriously undervaluing Altaba’s stock.”

    Brett Harriss, an analyst at Gabelli, values Altaba at about $76, assuming a full tax bite on the sale of the Yahoo Japan interest and a 15% discount on Alibaba. He says SoftBank Group [9984.Japan] is a potential buyer of Altaba. Both SoftBank and Altaba own stakes in Yahoo Japan and Alibaba.

    After the Verizon sale closed, Marissa Mayer departed as Yahoo’s chief executive officer. Altaba’s small executive team now is headed by CEO Thomas McInerney, a former chief financial officer at Barry Diller’s IAC/InteractiveCorp (IAC). There are just 15 employees.

    In a June 19 letter to shareholders, McInerney pledged to reduce the discount to net asset value, which has remained around 30% since then. Management compensation is based in part on reducing that discount. The company maintains a live NAV calculation on its website. Last week, it was nearly 31%.

    IN ITS FIRST ACT as an investment company, Altaba bought back $3.4 billion of stock at about $53 a share. It has since authorized a new, $5 billion share buyback. But it probably needs the cooperation of Alibaba to unload its 15% stake in the Chinese company, equal to nearly 384 million shares, without incurring a huge tax bill.

    The scenario favored by investors, as outlined by Lignelli, would involve a return of Altaba’s current cash to holders via buybacks, followed by a tax-efficient sale of the Yahoo Japan stake to Yahoo Japan, possibly through a technique called a dividend strip, involving the payment by Yahoo Japan of cash and equity warrants. Willens favors this approach. If it happens, Altaba would be left with one dominant asset: its Alibaba shares.

    It could sell its Alibaba stake in the open market, but unloading such an enormous block of stock could depress the price and generate a huge tax bill, because Yahoo! originally paid little for the shares more than 10 years ago. “We would be highly unlikely to ever sell Alibaba shares at a 36.5% combined federal and state tax rate because there’d be no incentive to do that,” McInerney said at an Oppenheimer investor conference last month.

    The preferred scenario would involve Alibaba buying Altaba for stock in a tax-free exchange, essentially swapping its shares for the Alibaba stake held by Altaba. Since Alibaba is the only company that can make this happen, it has leverage. Alibaba might demand a concession as an incentive for the swap, such as getting a 15% or 20% discount on the shares. That means it could offer, say, to issue 310 million shares to Altaba holders in order buy Altaba and its 384 Alibaba million shares, effectively netting $12.5 billion (74 million shares times the recent Alibaba price of $170).

    This financial incentive and the desire to keep Altaba’s large block in friendly hands might motivate Alibaba to act, although it probably couldn’t retire the stock without incurring a tax penalty. Willens says this issue is overblown and could be “just a negotiating ploy” by Alibaba to get a better price. However, it is unclear whether Alibaba wants to do a deal and whether it might seek a steeper discount, to accommodate Altaba. Alibaba declined to comment.

    ALTABA’S MCINERNEY has said the company is watching to see if the tax-reform push in Washington will lower taxes. A cut to a 20% or 25% corporate rate from the current 35% would help reduce Altaba’s potential tax bite on an open-market sale of Alibaba stock.

    A big risk with Altaba is a drop in Alibaba shares. To hedge the risk, some investors have sold Alibaba shares short to create a cheap “stub” of the remainder of Altaba. If the discount narrows, Altaba investors could score, even if Alibaba shares decline.

    Another risk is that Alibaba won’t execute a transaction with Altaba. If that happens, Altaba’s options may be limited, possibly leading to a sale of the Alibaba stake in the open market—and a tax hit. In 2015, Yahoo! sought to spin off the Alibaba stake tax-free, but dropped the idea when it couldn’t get a blessing from the Internal Revenue Service.

    Willens notes that Altaba could convert to a regulated investment company and pay out the Alibaba stock to shareholders in a tax-friendly way through a technique called distributions in redemption. But that approach is complicated and could face challenges from the Treasury or IRS.

    It is tough to handicap the Altaba situation, given the uncertainty about Alibaba’s intentions. But the Chinese e-commerce company just might want to negotiate a share swap that benefits itself and Altaba, finally concluding the Yahoo!/Altaba saga.


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