A series of microblog posts this past week is highlighting the breakneck pace of wheeling and dealing happening behind the scenes on China's Internet as it undergoes an unprecedented wave of consolidation. What started as a trickle of buying early last year has become so routine that barely anyone notices now when new deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars are signed. Equally interesting are the untold stories of companies quietly being dismantled in the wake of larger deals, and hints of deals to come in the microblog posts of executives at firms leading the consolidation.
The first category of developments saw barely anyone take notice last week when leading Internet firm Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY) announced it would pay $736 million for 20 percent of 58.com (NYSE: WUBA), a recently listed online classified advertising site often called the Craig's List of China. Behind-the-scenes details about the deal were disclosed in postings by 58.com's chief executive, including the lightning-fast speed in which the deal was reached.
Meantime, the second category of developments has seen Tencent's former e-commerce site, Yixun.com, being rapidly dismantled following Tencent's equity tie-up earlier this year with JD.com (Nasdaq: JD), China's second largest e-commerce site. In the final category of signs of things to come, the top executive from smartphone sensation Xiaomi was sending signals that his company could soon purchase a major stake in faded online clothing seller Vancl.
Tencent's spending of nearly $800 million for 20 percent of 58.com would have been major headline news 2 years ago, when China's Internet was still highly fragmented and in dire need of consolidation. But so many big deals have happened over the last 12 months that no one pays much attention anymore to anything worth less than $1 billion.
While market watchers see the results of these deals when they're announced, new comments from 58.com CEO Yao Jingbo show just how frenetic the pace of deal-making has become as big names like Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) and even Xiaomi start to snap up any asset they can find. One of the earliest M&A deals in the current consolidation saw Alibaba take a half year to reach an agreement to buy 18 percent of the popular Weibo (Nasdaq: WB) microblogging platform for $586 million. In many ways that deal kicked off the current round of M&A.
Last week's deal that saw Tencent purchase a similar-sized 20 percent of 58.com took far less time to negotiate, according to Yao. More precisely, the whole deal from the start of talks to the signing of the agreement took just 10 days, he said on his microblog. (microblog post) That kind of speed shows the sense of urgency to get new deals done, as acquirers chase the dwindling field of attractive targets. But it also hints that many of these tie-ups may not be getting the proper attention they deserve, which could set the stage for problems ahead.
Such problems were evident at Yixun.com, the former e-commerce division of Tencent, which received a death sentence after Tencent made its purchase of a strategic stake in JD.com back in March. A new series of posts from a former Yixun executive and also from chief rival Alibaba show that Yixun is slowly being dismantled as Tencent places its e-commerce bets with JD.
Alibaba vice president Che Pinjue reposts one article detailing how Yixun's sales have plummeted since the JD tie-up was first announced just 4 months ago, amid a mass exodus of employees. (microblog post) Former Yixun executive Lin Wenqin, who made the move to JD.com, was more philosophical about the change. He commented on his microblog how he and others who made the move formally had their former Tencent email addresses discontinued last week. (microblog post)
Finally there's Xiaomi, the cash-rich smartphone start-up that officially became an acquirer with its recent disclosure that it purchased 30 percent of online video site Xunlei (Nasdaq: XNET), which made a New York IPO last week. Now Xiaomi co-founder and CEO Lei Jun is hinting that his company could purchase a strategic stake in Vancl, the struggling online clothing seller whose CEO Chen Nian is personal friends with Lei.
Lei was one of the investors who gave Vancl a lifeline earlier this year in the form of $100 million in new funding (previous post). Since then Lei has been steadily hyping Vancl on his personal microblog. He was hyping the company again this past week, this time talking about the Vancl blue jeans that he wore on a recent weekend hiking trip. (microblog post) This kind of self-promotional posting is fairly typical for Lei and in that sense it isn't too unusual. But in the current climate of hyperactive M&A, I wouldn't be surprised if Vancl makes another attempt at an IPO within the next year and simultaneously announces that Xiaomi has signed on as a major strategic investor for the offering.
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