Opinion

The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba payments cleanup makes for neater IPO

By Peter Thal Larsen

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Alibaba just can’t stop tinkering with its corporate structure. Weeks before the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut is due to start a roadshow for an initial public offering, it has tidied up relations with its payments affiliate. Though the new arrangement is still messier than shareholders might want, it should make for a neater IPO.

Alibaba’s relationship with Alipay is complex and sensitive. The unit processes more than three-quarters of the transactions on the Chinese group’s websites, but has been owned by a private vehicle controlled by founder Jack Ma since 2011. That business, known as Small and Micro Financial Services Company (SMFSC), is also home to other ventures like its fast-growing money market funds. For customers, the units connect seamlessly. The corporate links are more complicated.

The latest reshuffle aims to draw a clearer line between the two entities. Alibaba will focus on e-commerce, while SMFSC will stick to finance. As part the deal, Alibaba is handing its affiliate a portfolio of loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises. The transfer helps to reduce the risk of meddling by Chinese financial regulators.

Under the old arrangement, Alibaba received 49.9 percent of Alipay’s pre-tax profit. The new deal entitles it to 37.5 percent of everything SMFSC brings in before tax. Alibaba thinks the claim on the earnings of a bigger business more than compensates for its reduced share. Its accountants calculate that the restructuring has boosted the company’s value by roughly 1.3 billion yuan ($211 million). However, it’s hard for outsiders to be sure because Alibaba does not tell them anything about SMFSC’s finances. Besides, Alibaba admits that if the new arrangement had been in place for the last fiscal year, its net income would have been slightly lower.

Why urban myths like Slenderman have become more deadly

Slenderman (2)

The Internet doesn’t just help suspend disbelief. It rolls right over it.

Exhibit A: Two 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin, charged with attempted murder for stabbing a friend 19 times and leaving her for dead. (She miraculously survived.) They appeared in court Wednesday.

The savage crime attracted international attention not only because of the age of the alleged perpetrators and the barbarity of the deed but also for something far more bizarre. The stabbing was apparently triggered by an Internet-generated fictional character named “Slenderman,” a sepulchral figure with long tentacles who kidnaps children and, by the girls’ accounts, requires acolytes to commit murder to be admitted to his realm. In trying to kill their friend, the girls said, they were attempting to appease the Slenderman so they could join him.

Commentators shocked by the crime have labeled Slenderman a new iteration of urban myth, one of those horrid tales that emerge from the collective consciousness. Stories like the woman who had a nest of black widow spiders in her beehive hairdo and died of a bite; the man who awoke to discover one of his kidneys had been removed; the psycho axe-murderer who lurks on lover’s lane, or the ferocious killer alligator that lives in a city’s sewer system.

from Breakingviews:

Solving the second-class stock dilemma

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. 

Over dinner in San Francisco recently, an activist investor and an internet entrepreneur got into a heated discussion. The two men, with a gap of about two decades between them, were debating the practice of many young, growth businesses in the technology world – though it happens elsewhere too – to issue multiple classes of stock, generally one for hoi polloi investors in public offerings and another for founders and other insiders with super-charged voting powers.

This, the investor felt, violates a tenet of democratic capitalism: “one share, one vote.” It treats public shareholders of Silicon Valley’s hottest properties as second-class citizens. Not so, argued the information industrialist, now working in his second mega-startup. Visionaries need to build their businesses without the distraction of having to please uppity investors every quarter. Giving them control of their boards of directors and key corporate decisions is vital.

from Breakingviews:

Solving the second-class stock dilemma

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. 

Over dinner in San Francisco recently, an activist investor and an internet entrepreneur got into a heated discussion. The two men, with a gap of about two decades between them, were debating the practice of many young, growth businesses in the technology world – though it happens elsewhere too – to issue multiple classes of stock, generally one for hoi polloi investors in public offerings and another for founders and other insiders with super-charged voting powers.

This, the investor felt, violates a tenet of democratic capitalism: “one share, one vote.” It treats public shareholders of Silicon Valley’s hottest properties as second-class citizens. Not so, argued the information industrialist, now working in his second mega-startup. Visionaries need to build their businesses without the distraction of having to please uppity investors every quarter. Giving them control of their boards of directors and key corporate decisions is vital.

from Breakingviews:

Hollywood’s hopes in China rest on Youku

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Look around the subway in Beijing or Shanghai and maybe nine of 10 passengers are watching videos on their mobile devices. Chances are most of them are watching content delivered to them by Youku Tudou. The country’s leading internet television operator streams 400 million videos a day. In that sense, Youku is Netflix and YouTube - plus Comcast and Liberty Media - stuffed into one dumpling. It is also the nexus for Hollywood’s high hopes in the Middle Kingdom.

You wouldn’t know it from Youku’s financial reports. The company founded by Victor Koo, and run day-to-day by a former student of central planning, Dele Liu, is listed in New York, where it commands a relatively modest $4 billion market cap compared to Netflix’s $26 billion. In the first quarter, it lost $36 million on revenue of $113 million. Still, the company is making progress, enough that China’s sultan of e-commerce, Alibaba, bought 16.5 percent of the group for $1 billion in April.

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: ITT’s ghost hangs over Silicon Valley

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The number of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley familiar with the work of Harold Geneen would hardly fill a 140-character tweet. After all, Geneen wasn’t a technologist, the inventor of a new computing language or the founder of a seminal startup. He was the original M&A machine – the man whose deal-making 50 years ago turned ITT into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate.

As tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Rakuten and Google mature and canvass the globe for businesses they can buy that are a few steps removed from their core activities, Geneen’s story is becoming more relevant. These titans of the internet age are embarking on diversification strategies not entirely dissimilar from those of Geneen’s ITT and its many followers, including LTV, Transamerica and Gulf+Western.

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba tries out role of the noble monopolist

By Ethan Bilby

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist.  The opinions expressed are his own.

Alibaba is trying out a new role: the noble monopolist. With an apparent 84 percent share of online consumer goods spending, it effectively owns the country’s Internet shoppers. Its payment affiliate is the biggest game in town. Both are attractions for its upcoming initial public offering. Alibaba’s long-term challenge is to keep showing that dominance helps the market rather than restricts it.

The company isn’t like China’s traditional monopolists. It comes from popularity rather than official handouts or restrictions – unlike, say, tobacco or salt, or the oligopolies that control telecoms and banking. Where “bad” monopolists promote inefficiency, Alibaba has done the opposite, connecting buyers and sellers who would never otherwise meet.

from Breakingviews:

China’s other e-commerce giant is priced to go

By John Foley
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Being second has its advantages. JD.com, China’s number two e-commerce company, has set an indicative range for its initial public offering that values it at around $23 billion. That’s far behind the $100 billion-plus price tag attached to rival Alibaba. But it leaves room for a decent performance.

Next to Alibaba, JD.com is an also-ran. It had 6.8 percent of China’s online shopping market in 2013, while its larger rival had around 84 percent, according to figures from iResearch. Moreover, JD.com loses money because it is investing heavily in logistics to handle delivery of its products. That’s an overhead that Alibaba, which matches buyers and sellers online, doesn’t have to worry about.

Theodore Roosevelt on net neutrality

tr & crowd

“Above all else,” President Theodore Roosevelt admonished Congress in 1905, “we must strive to keep the highways of commerce open to all on equal terms.”

Roosevelt could not have imagined digital computers and fiber-optic cables. He was talking about railroads, the highways of commerce in his day.

But though the technology has changed, the principle TR expressed remains as essential as it was a century ago. We ignore it at our peril.

Cuba’s uneasy Internet connection

Last week, an Associated Press article, “US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest,” sparked an uproar. The U.S. Agency for International Development had funded a Cuban version of Twitter called ZunZuneo , the AP reported, that attracted more than 40,000 users before ending in 2012, according to the story.

Commentators have derided the program as boneheaded, dangerously absurd and disrespectful to Cubans. Analysts have discussed its pros and cons. The White House maintains that the program was not “covert.” USAID contests aspects of the AP story.

The article, however, is a propaganda windfall for the Cuban government, which tends to label bloggers critical of it as U.S.-funded mercenaries. Cuba’s media has been having a field day, running gleeful headlines like “ZunZuneo: the Sound of Subversion.”

  •