China is reportedly moving to clamp down on bitcoin miners

China banned bitcoin, ICOs and now it appears to be clamping down on Chinese miners, an important group estimated to produce some three-quarters of the world’s supply of bitcoin.

According to a leaked January 2 memo from the ‘Leading Group of Internet Financial Risks Remediation’ — the country’s internet finance regulator which initiated the clampdown on bitcoin — bitcoin miners should make an “orderly exit” from China because they have consumed “huge amounts of resources and stoked speculation of ‘virtual currencies.”

Details of the memo were posted on Twitter by Chinese blockchain industry executive Elly Zhang and confirmed by Quartz.

The group itself doesn’t control national energy usage but it is an influential political vehicle that’s led by the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBC), Pan Gongsheng. To remove miners, the group asked its local offices to look into policies around price, tax, land usage and environmental concerns.

Its local representatives must report back on their progress of removing miners in their region on a monthly basis, according to Quartz.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many miners, and particularly those in China, make use of cheap power, or flock to locations where there’s excess capacity. In some cases, mining businesses partner with local governments to ensure a steady supply of electricity at discounted rates, with a portion of the profits returned to the local authorities. That’s offered a welcome economic boost in regions where more traditional industries are struggling.

But there’s no smoke without fire. It certainly seems like central government has a plan to stamp out the miners. Beyond today’s news, both Bloomberg and Reuters last week reported on the PBC’s plans to slowly cut down on the number of miners. That, apparently, includes dissolving any such agreements and deals that had previously been struck.

Perhaps wary of additional regulation, China’s bitcoin mining giants have already branched out to open new facilities in countries like Iceland, Canada and the U.S. Nonetheless, a serious move to crush the mining industry has the potential to impact bitcoin.

Disclosure: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Source: TechCrunch

The US Government blocks MoneyGram’s $1.2B sale to Alibaba’s Ant Financial

The proposed acquisition of global payment service MoneyGram by Alibaba’s Ant Financial is off after the U.S. Government blocked the $1.2 billion deal.

Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate which controls Alipay — China’s top mobile wallet — and other financial services, announced a deal to buy Nasdaq-listed MoneyGram in April 2017 after it beat off a rival bid from Euronet. Ant initially bid for MoneyGram in January 2017 as a means to develop its cross-border payment network into the U.S., and major corridors including India and the Philippines, but instead it will “explore and develop initiatives” to collaborate with MoneyGram’s business.

“The geopolitical environment has changed considerably since we first announced the proposed transaction with Ant Financial nearly a year ago. Despite our best efforts to work cooperatively with the U.S. government, it has now become clear that CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] will not approve this merger,” MoneyGram CEO Alex Holmes said in a statement.

“Establishing this new strategic cooperation with MoneyGram will add a partner with global remittance capabilities to our ecosystem and, while Ant Financial won’t have a direct ownership relationship with MoneyGram, we look forward to working closely with the MoneyGram team to make our platform even more accessible – particularly to unbanked and underserved communities globally – and create even better experiences for our customers,” added Doug Feagin, President of Ant Financial International.

Per terms of the agreement, Ant has paid $30 million to MoneyGram for terminating the acquisition process.

MoneyGram’s share price dropped by around 10 percent to $12.02 on the news, before recovering to around $12.40 in out-of-hours trading at the time of writing.

The collapse of the deal is a huge blow to Ant, which spent much of 2017 developing its mobile payment network beyond China and into Southeast Asia, India, Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia with a series of partnerships and investments. MoneyGram not only added the U.S. to that strategy, but it had the potential to give Ant a physical network of cross-border offices and a much large slice of the global cross-payment industry. But now it is not to be, and it will be interesting to see what approach Ant — which is hotly tipped to go public in a massive IPO — will take to fill the void beyond this new “strategic business cooperation” with MoneyGram.

The collapse of the deal marks a second China-led acquisition of a U.S. tech company to have failed during U.S. President Trump’s tenure. Back in September, a private equity group was blocked from purchasing Lattice Semiconductor due to potential security risks. Prior to the Trump administration, just three deals had been blocked over the past 27 years.

Source: TechCrunch

Apple plans to combine iPhone, iPad, Mac apps

Apple is reportedly planning to give people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs. — Bloomberg

Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPad introduced a novel way of interacting with computers: via easy-to-use applications, accessible in the highly curated App Store.

The same approach hasn’t worked nearly as well on Apple’s desktops and laptops. The Mac App Store is a ghost town of limited selection and rarely updated programs. Now Apple plans to change that by giving people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Developers currently must design two different apps – one for iOS, the operating system of Apple’s mobile devices, and one for macOS, the system that runs Macs. That’s a lot more work. What’s more, Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift.

For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version hasn’t been refreshed recently and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.

Unifying the apps could help the iOS and macOS platforms “evolve and grow as one, and not one at the expense of the other,” says Steven Troughton-Smith, an app developer and longtime voice in the Apple community. “This would be the biggest change to Apple’s software platform since iOS was introduced.”

Apple is developing the strategy as part of the next major iOS and macOS updates, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. Codenamed “Marzipan,” the secret project is planned as a multiyear effort that will start rolling out as early as next year and may be announced at the company’s annual developers conference in the summer. The plans are still fluid, the people said, so the implementation could change or the project could still be cancelled.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple wouldn’t be first to bring mobile and desktop apps closer together. Before it discontinued Windows software for smartphones, Microsoft Corp pushed a technology called Universal Windows Platform that let developers create single applications that would run on all of its devices – tablets, phones, and full-fledged computers. Similarly, Google has brought the Play mobile app store to some laptops running its desktop Chrome OS, letting computer users run smartphone and tablet apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

It’s unclear if Apple plans to merge the separate Mac and iOS App Stores as well, but it is notable that the version of the store running on iPhones and iPads was redesigned this year while the Mac version has not been refreshed since 2014.

Apple’s apps initiative is part of a larger, longer-term push to make the underpinnings of its hardware and software more similar. Several years ago, the company began designing its own processors for iOS devices. It has started doing the same for the Mac, recently launching a T2 chip in the iMac Pro that offloads features like security and power management from the main Intel processor onto Apple-designed silicon. Much the way Apple plans to unify apps, it could also one day use the same main processor on Macs and iOS devices.

That would make it easier to create a single operating system for all Apple gadgets. Will Apple go there? Chief executive officer Tim Cook has resisted doing so, arguing that merging iOS and macOS would degrade the experience. “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user,” Cook said in 2012. Apple software chief Craig Federighi has called the blending of iOS and macOS “a compromise.”

Maybe so. But Apple has a long history of insisting it would never do something – make a small iPad, say, or a big iPhone – and then doing it anyway. — Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

Tencent, JD back Chinese online retailer in battle with Alibaba

Tencent’s and JD’s backing is a boon for Vipshop, which carved out a profitable niche in women’s fashion but has now chalked up two successive quarters of net income declines. — Reuters

Tencent Holdings Ltd and JD.com Inc will buy a slice of one of China’s largest online retailers for US$863mil (RM3.52bil), forging an alliance to take on Alibaba in e-commerce and digital payments.

The pair agreed to buy shares in US-listed Vipshop Holdings Ltd at a premium of 55% to their previous close. The deal comes with a business cooperation pact that includes setting aside real estate for Vipshop on JD’s site and Tencent’s digital wallet, a thriving and integral part of the WeChat messaging service used by close to a billion people.

Once known mainly as a videogames distributor, Tencent has grown WeChat into China’s premier social media platform. Now it plans to use that ubiquity and JD – in which it holds a significant stake – to fend off e-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Monday’s agreement comes days after Tencent unveiled a US$635mil (RM2.59bil) deal to buy 5% of hypermart chain Yonghui Superstores Co – a rare incursion into a physical retail arena that Alibaba covets.

“Tencent and JD need this assistance given Alibaba’s spectacular execution in 2017,” said Blue Lotus Capital Advisors Ltd. founder Eric Wen. “Tencent needs to go from the backstage to the frontstage and that’s what they’ve done. Tencent has acquired a stake in Yonghui and now Vipshop, this is something JD cannot pull off by itself.”

Tencent’s and JD’s backing is a boon for Vipshop, which carved out a profitable niche in women’s fashion but has now chalked up two successive quarters of net income declines. Despite strong growth across categories like electronics, JD itself is grappling with renewed competition from Alibaba, which last quarter grew revenue 61% and is making headway into overseas markets.

Tencent and JD are buying Class A Vipshop stock at US$65.40 (RM267.19) apiece, equivalent to US$13.08 (RM53.44) per American Depositary Share. Vipshop closed Friday at US$8.44 (RM34.48) in the US. Once completed, Tencent and JD will own about 7% and 5.5% of Vipshop’s issued stock respectively, the two companies said in an e-mailed statement on Dec 18.

Rather than buy up entire companies, Tencent has traditionally preferred to strike deals with key players in segments it cannot dominate, such as e-commerce and search. Apart from JD, it also owns a substantial stake in Sogou Inc.

Its decision to invest jointly with JD may have stemmed in part from Alibaba’s growing dominance in online shopping, aided by a massive cloud computing division that’s among the world’s largest and investments in data capabilities and rural markets. Alibaba’s spending billions on physical retailers, which in turn drive online traffic and serves up valuable data for advertising. JD is doing the same but on a much smaller scale, while Tencent’s highest-profile effort so far was the Yonghui investment announced Friday.

JD’s investment may herald a bigger acquisition down the road, Wen said.

“This is a precursor for JD.com to acquire Vipshop completely because Vipshop doesn’t need money and they have plenty of cash,” he said.

As part of the deal, Tencent will give Vipshop a dedicated spot on Weixin Wallet, referring customers to its online shopping platform. JD will also grant Vipshop a potentially lucrative slot on some of its shopping portals and help it achieve sales targets, the companies said.

In return, Vipshop offers exposure to apparel and female shoppers – categories in which it excels. JD chief financial officer Sidney Huang told investors in November that stagnant growth in apparel sales could last several quarters after dozens of merchants left for Alibaba’s Tmall.

“The strength of Vipshop’s flash sale and apparel businesses, as well as its outstanding management team, create clear and strong synergies with us,” JD founder Richard Liu said in the statement.

“This partnership will further extend the strong inroads that we have made with female shoppers, and will expand the breadth and reach of our fashion business.” — Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

GrabPay e-money services in Malaysia

Managing Director of GrabPay Jason Thompson (left) and Grab Malaysia country head Sean Goh displaying the app.

KUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asia’s leading on-demand transportation group Grab, Malaysia has received the go-ahead from Bank Negara Malaysia to offer GrabPay e-money services in Malaysia.

It said on Friday the services will be launched in stages in the first half of 2018 and they would allow Malaysians to enjoy a simple, safe and rewarding mobile payment system.

The new GrabPay e-money services would help customers and merchants in emerging economies like Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia go cashless and cardless, it said.

Through the same Grab app, consumers will be able to access not just transport services, but all of the most important everyday services, whether it’s paying for food and drinks, the latest gadgets in shops or making transfers to friends.

Managing Director of GrabPay Jason Thompson said cash was still the most important payment method for many Malaysian SMEs and middle-class consumers, despite most adults having a deposit account.

“As one of the region’s most frequently used consumer apps with 72 million downloads, we are happy to work with Bank Negara to drive mass adoption of mobile payments in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia,” he said.

Demonstrating the GrabPay e-wallet at the Bank Negara Payment Systems Forum, Thompson said according to statistics by Bank Negara, cash handling and services cost RM 1.8bil a year to the banking industry and electronic-based payments may result in savings amounting to up to 1% of acountry’s economy due to lower retail payment cost versus cash transactions.

He said Malaysia was poised to rapidly move towards a digital-first economy thanks to a combination of technological innovation and progressive policies, such as the Malaysian Financial Sector Blueprint 2011-2020 which aims to increase the number of electronic payments per capita to 200 by 2020.

Thompson also affirmed Grab has taken a number of measures to ensure the privacy and security of GrabPay transactions, including a six-digit GrabPay PIN as a second factor authentication (2FA):

“Customers with a certain amount in their GrabPay e-money wallet account are required to activate the PIN. The Grab app will automatically prompt users to input their pin number when it detects any unusual activities.”

Grab Malaysia country head Sean Goh said the enhanced GrabPay e-wallet was secure, simple and rewarding to use.

Source: The Star Online

Tencent valued over $500B

JIAXING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 16: A speech about WeChat Ecosystem Innovation by Tencent is delivered during the Release Ceremony for World Leading Internet Scientific and Technological Achievements as part of the 3rd World Internet Conference (WIC) at Wuzhen Internet International Conference and Exhibition Center on November 16, 2016 in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province of China. The 3rd World Internet Conference (WIC) – Wuzhen Summit kicks off at Wuzhen township on Wednesday and will last to Nov 18, in Zhejiang Province. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Tencent has become the first Chinese company to be valued at more than $500 billion.

Shares of the 19-year-old company, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, rallied to reach HK$418.80 to give it a market cap of HK$3.99 trillion which takes past the $500 billion mark. Close rival Alibaba is Asia’s second-highest-valued firm at $474 billion.

Entry to the half-a-trillion-dollar club — which includes Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon — comes a week after Tencent posted a profit of 18 billion RMB ($2.7 billion) on revenue of 65.2 billion RMB ($9.8 billion) for Q3 2017. Overall profit was up 69 percent year-on-year and revenue rose by 61 percent thanks to Tencent’s games business

As SCMP pointed out, a US$9,000 investment in the company’s 2004 IPO would now be worth US$1 million.

Just looking at the last twelve months alone, Tencent’s share price has doubled thanks to impressive earnings reports like Q3.

Tencent’s market cap has more than tripled since March 2014 when it reached $150 billion, surpassing Intel in the process. Writing then, The Wall Street Journal opined that the company “isn’t yet a household name in the U.S., but it should be” and that still applies today.

WeChat, its messaging app that is China’s top social service, is closing in on one billion users overall but it has not managed to replicate that success overseas. Tencent has instead focused on investing itself into global positions.

Its lucrative gaming business focuses on PC and mobile and is the heartbeat of revenue, accounting for $5 billion in the last quarter alone, thanks to smash hits like Honour Of Kings, 2017’s top grossing game, and the acquisition of the companies behind hit games Clash Of Clans (Supercell) and League Of Legends (Riot Games).

Tencent’s investment focus seems to have gone into overdrive over the last year. It has bought up stakes in public companies Tesla, Snap, invested in India-based unicorns Flipkart, messaging app Hike, health portal Practo and Uber rival Ola. Other earlier-stage deals include flying cars, lunar drones and asteroid mining, while longer-standing investments like Sogou (search) and China Literature (e-publishing) have gone public over the past month.

If the recent Snap and Tesla deals are anything to go by, Tencent is likely to commit considerable resources to developing a base among U.S. tech companies. Not only does it believe it can learn from their experiences to boost its business in China, but it can add fresh perspective too — particularly around messaging/WeChat.

Source: TechCrunch