Grab launches a bike-sharing service in Southeast Asia

After much speculation, Southeast Asian Uber rival Grab has jumped into the bike-sharing space after it launched a service in Singapore.

GrabCycle Beta will offer services from a range of services, including bike-sharing services oBike — which includes Grab as an investor — GBikes and Anywheel, plus electric scooter rental Popscoot. The project is the first to launch under GrabVentures, Grab’s new “innovation arm” which is focused on projects in verticals beyond taxi rides such as payments and transportation.

The project ties into Grab’s payment efforts because GrabPay credits, its virtual currency, are used to pay to rent a cycle.

While dock-less bikes have their fans for making access to bikes easier, they have also adopted criticism for large cycle ‘dumps’ which have become commonplace across China. Grab is looking to mitigate that concern by partnering with Singapore island resort Sentosa, which will feature dedicated parking stations for bikes. The company plans to add other partners to help avoid “polluting public spaces” with cycles.

“In Singapore, approximately one in five car commutes are three kilometers and under. There is huge potential to convert this segment of commuters into bike-sharing users, in support of the country’s car-lite ambition,” Grab wrote in an announcement that was distributed to press today.

In adopting a marketplace-style model from the get-go, Grab is avoiding the issues that Didi — a Grab investor — encountered in China when it invested in bike-sharing company Ofo. As demand for bike-sharing rocketed, Ofo found itself becoming a potential threat to Didi. Throw in some internal politics between investor and investee, and Didi moved to counter the younger company by introducing a marketplace that served bikes of its own, alongside those from Ofo and Bluegogo.

The move was essentially aimed at relegating Ofo to a feature within Didi’s app in a bid to remove the need for consumers — and potential Didi customers — to install Ofo’s own app. That’s important because Mobike, an Ofo rival, has moved into taxi services and there is the potential for Ofo to do the same at some point.

Back to Southeast Asia, Grab’s service is initially operational in Singapore, where the firm is headquartered, but there is the potential to expand it to other markets in Southeast Asia, a spokesperson confirmed. Right now, the core Grab service is present in eight countries across the region with 86 million downloads and 2.6 million drivers.

Rumors persist that Grab is on the brink of agreeing to a deal that will see it acquire Uber’s Southeast Asia business in exchange for equity, according to Bloomberg. Any such deal would make it the dominant player across the region bar Indonesia, where local unicorn Go-Jek remains top of the pile.

Uber has moved into bike-sharing in the U.S. but it has not done the same in Southeast Asia despite its head of the region admitting to TechCrunch that the company is studying space.

Source: TechCrunch

Grab is said to close deal for Uber South-East Asia business

Grab would buy out Uber’s operations in certain markets in South-East Asia and Uber will take a stake in Grab. — Bloomberg

Grab, the dominant ride-hailing service in South-East Asia, is close to finalising a deal to acquire Uber Technologies Inc’s business in the region and may sign a deal this week or next, according to people familiar with the matter.

Under terms of the proposed agreement, Grab would buy out Uber’s operations in certain markets in South-East Asia and Uber will take a stake in Grab, the people said, asking not to be named because the talks are private.

The structure would be similar to the deal Uber struck with Didi Chuxing in China in 2016, when the San Francisco-based company sold its local operation in exchange for equity in the company.

Under a scenario being considered, Uber’s stake in Grab is likely to be in the high teens or 20%, said one of the people. Grab has separately been in discussions with existing backers, including SoftBank Group Corp, and new investors for additional capital, according to people familiar with the talks.

Grab was most recently valued at US$6bil (RM23bil) according to CB Insights. The current talks may still fall apart or the terms and timing may change. Grab and Uber declined to comment.

For Grab co-founder and chief executive officer Anthony Tan, the truce would bring to an end a bruising battle for leadership in South-East Asia’s fast-growing ride-hailing market.

The companies have been locked in a struggle for control of as many cities as possible across South-East Asia, home to 620 million people.

Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been pushing to clean up the company’s financials in preparations for an initial public offering next year. Pulling out of markets like South-East Asia would boost profits at a company that has burned through US$10.7bil (RM41.7bil) since its founding nine years ago.

Khosrowshahi signaled during a trip through Asia last month that he is committed to key markets such as Japan and India.

Japan’s SoftBank became the largest shareholder in Uber in January, setting off speculation that it would encourage ride-hailing startups in its portfolio to cut back on competing with each other. SoftBank also holds stakes in China’s Didi and Ola, the India startup vying with Uber for leadership in that market.

Grab, which has more than 81 million mobile app downloads, currently offers services in 178 cities across Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. — Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

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 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 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