Seeking Alpha

Peter Fuhrman's  Instablog

Peter Fuhrman
Send Message
Chairman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at China First Capital (www.chinafirstcapital.com) , China-based international investment bank and advisory firm for private capital markets and M&A transactions. See Linkedin profile here: cn.linkedin.com/in/peterfuhrman/ China First Capital... More
My company:
China First Capital
My blog:
China Private Equity, by China First Capital
View Peter Fuhrman's Instablogs on:
  • China's 800-Year-Old iPhone

    (click to enlarge)

    -

    While China's recent performance may be a disappointment, averaged across the millennia no other nation has provided the world with such an abundant wellspring of innovation. Have a look at this long list of Chinese inventions. Not a day passes for most of us when we don't rely on at least one product of Chinese ingenuity, be it paper money, the bristle toothbrush, toilet paper, oil wells. A slightly smaller group of us wouldn't want to long tolerate life without noodles, steamed or stir-fried food, tofu, tea, alcoholic drinks.

    Left off the Wikipedia list is one other Chinese gadget that played a central role in people's lives, especially in East Asia, for centuries and then abruptly disappeared over the last two decades. It's also my personal favorite among all Chinese inventions, the abacus. I grieve over its extinction.

    When I first got to China in 1981, the abacus was ubiquitous - in every shop, bank, schoolroom and government office. If it had to be counted or calculated, an abacus was required. I still remember the loud and ceaseless clicking sound inside the main room of Nanjing's cavernous People's Bank as dozens of clerks tabulated and re-tabulated sums, louder and more rhythmic than the clatter of cicadas outside. Cheap electric calculators and PCs not only killed off the abacus they also have turned China's banks and offices into quieter more monotonous spaces.

    Among all Chinese inventions, nothing quite rivals an abacus, or "算盘 suanpan" in Chinese, for pure "out of the box" ingenuity. There's no clear predecessor machine, and no real evolution or improvement from the device that is first described almost eight hundred years ago in Chinese books and begins appearing in Chinese paintings five hundred years ago.

    Though the name of the inventor (or inventors) is lost to history, none but a towering genius could invent a portable lightweight tool and the accompanying fingering technique to allow a few rows of beads separated on two stacked decks, five beads on the lower and two on the upper, to perform high-speed, accurate multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, square root and cube root operations. In geek-speak, hardware and software are proprietary and seamlessly integrated. The abacus, unlike the modern electronic calculator, is as easily used for calculations in base ten (decimal), base 16 (hexidecimal) or any other base you might choose.

    Europe and America, so dominant in most spheres of invention these last 400 years, contributed in the 17th century the slide rule and adding machine to the technology of calculation. But, neither achieved the widespread use in teaching and daily life the abacus enjoyed for centuries. Most Chinese aged over 30 (as well as tens of millions in other parts of Asia) were taught in school to use an abacus. While most have since sadly forgotten how to use one, they once could manipulate the wooden beads as quickly and accurately as skilled touch typists.

    I recently went off to see if I could buy an old wooden abacus. It's harder than you'd think. My guess is there were at least 400 million abacuses in China thirty years ago. Today, they've completely disappeared from sight. I can't recall a single time I've seen one in use during the last five years living full-time in China. Something of great functional beauty and utility has gone out of Chinese lives.

    I did eventually succeed in finding one at an antique market in Shenzhen. It looked to me, based on the filigree bronze hinges, to be about 120 years old. The seller, in his early 60s, had forgotten how to use it, as did everyone else who gathered around to watch me bargain for it, with the exception of one handsome older woman trained in the early 1970s as an accountant. I asked the seller to give us some random four-digit numbers to add and subtract, with me using the calculator on my phone and her using the old abacus. In each case, she was quicker than me. I had to repeat each number in my head before tapping on the keyboard. Her fingers, on the other hand, were in motion from the first sound. It was a virtuoso performance.

    An abacus is not a calculator, in the sense that you punch in numbers and it spits out an answer. "The person operating the abacus performs calculations in their head and uses the abacus as a physical aid to keep track of the sums, the carrys," explain the experts at Canada's Ryerson University.

    After polishing away the dust, I put the abacus on the table in the CFC's meeting room. I'm determined to learn better how to use it, but conscious of ebbing mental and physical dexterity.

    It looks like nothing else on the planet, and yet it shares similarities with an iconic device invented from 800 years later (in 2007) in Silicon Valley. A swipe-operated high-tech tool, with a simple rectangular design, its engineering elegant yet practical, and an intuitive interface that allows anyone with a little practice, from kids to old folks, to solve routinely and quickly a host of problems once thought too challenging for ordinary folk. The iPhone is the abacus of our age.

    Oct 30 7:53 PM | Link | Comment!
  • 谁会笑到最后:阿里巴巴还是亚马逊中国? — 21世纪网评论
    核心提示:阿里巴巴自从成为美国历史上规模最大的IPO,铺天盖地的报道,火爆的路演,大家都突然对中国的网上购物着迷起来。但在作者看来,亚马逊在未来更可能成为中国价值4000亿美元的网购行业的王者。

    -

    今年的9月属于中国的阿里巴巴。铺天盖地的报道,火爆的路演,一瞬间国外的普通大众也开始频频听到马云和阿里巴巴这两个名字;我在美国认识的所有人 -- 朋友、家人、商业伙伴-- 也都突然对中国的网上购物着迷起来。阿里巴巴集团无疑将会在下周登陆纽交所时吸纳巨额的资金。它不仅将成为历史上规模最大的IPO,美国投资者将提供给阿 里巴巴的200亿美元也会成为最大的单笔外商投资。但是,也许会让许多人惊讶的是,在我看来,身处西雅图的亚马逊在未来更可能成为中国价值4000亿美元 的网购行业的王者。

    (click to enlarge)

    \

    我会这么说的原因,在于相比阿里巴巴的淘宝业务,亚马逊中国在几乎每一个重要的方面都做得更好,包括客服、物流,商品质量甚至是价格。但相比马云现 在一线明星般的知名度,却没有多少中国人,甚至美国人,知道亚马逊的创始人兼CEO杰夫·贝索斯在中国的成就;相比马云的阿里巴巴王国,贝索斯似乎正在中 国建立一个更好、更强、更长远的可持续发展的企业。亚马逊在中国的业务也遵循它以往惯用的模式。这家公司经常受到美国投资者的不解和质疑,说它隐藏了太多 的秘密,投资太多却回报太少。在中国,远离华尔街的聚光灯下,亚马逊已投入巨大的资金,或以期待超越阿里巴巴,并成为中国最主要的在线零售商。但是,它却 并没有什么兴趣让它的股东,竞争对手及大众知道它在中国的布局。打开亚马逊近期在美国证券交易委员会的10-K文件,中国在里面只简略出现过三次,却没有 任何对这块业务的规模和发展战略的描述。亚马逊的股东很可能有一天醒来,突然发现贝索斯已经为他们在这个全球最大的电子商务市场建立了一个最有价值的在线 业务;这也是中国市场唯一一个不由中国企业拥有或管理的网络购物平台。相比于阿里巴巴和其他所有赴美上市的中国电子商务公司,亚马逊中国似乎不存在任何极 具风险的VIE结构。(美国国会调查人员对中国公司VIE架构的调查报告请见这里。)

    杰夫·贝佐斯自1994年网购行业兴起之时就已经参与其中。十年后,他第一次开始认真地对中国产生兴趣,并收购了名叫卓越网的小型网上购物业务。在 这前一年,也就是2003年,阿里巴巴集团创立了淘宝网。三年后,淘宝完全击溃了eBay当时利润丰厚的网上拍卖业务。它采用了卖家展示商品完全免费的策 略,并且对买家和卖家交易双方收取零佣金。淘宝的主要收入来源于广告收入。到了2006年,eBay彻底退出了中国市场。从那时起到2013年,阿里巴巴 的年收入从1.7亿美元增长到超过60 亿美元。目前,每年大约有四分之三的网购消费都经由阿里巴巴。预计到2014年底全球网络购物交易额有望超过1万亿美元。

    下周对于阿里巴巴而言,将是充满香槟和白酒的盛宴。于此同时,贝索斯将继续执行他自2012年开始的计划,以追赶,并期待有一天超越淘宝在中国的地 位。他会怎么做?若你在亚马逊中国购买过商品,便可以看到贝索斯的努力。他清楚地评估了淘宝的关键弱点,并精确地针对其作出回击。

    淘宝已经做得惊人的好。但是,今天的淘宝与十年之前的淘宝从业务模式上来看并没有什么不同。它是一个混乱的网络零售商圈,其中充斥着大量的假冒伪劣 产品。一切看起来都是临时性的;卖家可以出现,并在第二天消失。他们收取的运费并没有什么统一的标准,你所购买的商品也没有任何质量保障。大部分款项是通 过支付宝支付的,它与阿里巴巴虽属同宗,但却不包含在此次上市主体中。作为第三方支付平台,支付宝试图成为充满了欺诈意向的买卖方市场间一个可靠的桥梁。

    淘宝可以称为一个时代的产物。在那个时代,不管其生产渠道、原产地、真实性和质量,只有价格便宜才是至关重要的。它同时也极快地在中国催生出了一支 800万小企业主组成的大军。这支大军拥有的店铺在淘宝网上向超过2亿客户销售商品。但问题是,现在的中国人远比十年前更富有,也更挑剔。并且,他们还一 天比一天更加富有,而这正指向亚马逊一直以来最典型的的客户群。

    当你在亚马逊中国购买商品时,你主要是从亚马逊直接购买,而不经过个人卖家。就像在美国一样,亚马逊中国销售的系列商品不只是书,还包括其它很多种 类。虽然它的总类还是比淘宝少得多,但它做了很多淘宝没有做的事情。首先,它有自己的全国配送服务。若前一天买了东西,通常第二天我就能看到穿亚马逊制服 快递员停在公司大楼前的人行道上。你可以在网上用信用卡支付,或支付现金给快递员。送货是免费并且可靠的。商品被十分专业地包裹在亚马逊的纸箱里,完好无 损。这是相对于淘宝提供的服务可以说是过于豪华。

    相反,在淘宝上订购的商品往往需要数天才到达,并且可能由任意一家独立于淘宝的快递公司投递。他们不接受退货,也不接受现金,在我过去五年在淘宝的 购物经验来说,可以看出包裹经常会受到相当粗暴的对待。淘宝卖家有自己的包装,有时好,有时坏,然后交给报价最低的快递公司。卖方通常需要收取额外的快递 费用,因为在淘宝上送货从不是免费的。

    亚马逊中国用自己的品牌和声誉为其销售的所有商品背书。这种方式提供的优质保证,是在淘宝上的任何个人卖家都无法比拟的。我甚至还发现,在过去一年 中,许多类似的商品在亚马逊上往往卖得比淘宝上还要便宜。为什么会这样?一方面,不像淘宝的大军,亚马逊可以利用其强大的购买力从供应商中获取更低的价格 和更好的付款条件。在天猫商城,各大品牌会直接销售自己的产品。在这里,至少应该是不用担心商品的质量和真实性。但由于每个品牌都在管理天猫上自己的专卖 店,这需要高昂的费用,因此价格往往比亚马逊中国更高。

    在哪方面淘宝比亚马逊中国做得更好?淘宝的网站似乎更容易为中国消费者接受,而亚马逊中国的网站则与亚马逊主网站的设计相似;淘宝拥有多得多的商品种类和各式各样迎合中国人口味的活动;并且在忽略质量和品牌的时候,淘宝的价格确实更为低廉。

    贝索斯的股东们都熟悉,也偶尔抱怨的是,他喜欢大量投资于仓库管理、运输技术和其他昂贵的基础设施研究及建设。亚马逊在中国的业务发展是令人惊叹的,是一种"贝索斯"式的奇迹。亚马逊中国业务的规模和复杂性都是惊人的。

    贝索斯创造并发扬了这种无库存的商业模式,让众多批发商为他在网上贩卖的书籍提供仓库。在中国,亚马逊必须大量维持库存,使得商品能够次日到达。这 些设施的位置和建设投资都属于亚马逊的秘密。无论我在亚马逊中国购买任何东西--最近一次是三本书,电动大蒜绞碎器和一些陶瓷刀具--大都会在第二天送 达,从下单开始约15个小时以内。考虑到中国的地域规模,以及长途陆运的艰难与昂贵,亚马逊显然已经投资了一个全国性大型分布式仓库网络来管理这些库存。 这些仓库到底是亚马逊还是第三方拥有的,我们并不清楚。但是,这一切都运行得非常完美。我能直接从穿着亚马逊制服的送货人员手中,快速高效地获得自己的商 品-更让人难以相信的是-以一个比淘宝更低的价格。

    这种高效服务每一次都在跟消费者传递这样一个信息,那就是相比淘宝,亚马逊可以更快,更便宜和更可靠地提供服务。贝索斯似乎是说对中国人说,试一试我们的服务,你会再回来的。

    但亚马逊中国目前有盈利吗?我的猜测是没有,它目前在中国的经营需要大笔的投入。有多大?中国的另一大网上购物平台,今年早些时候上市的京东,拥有一个更类似于亚马逊的商业模式。尽管它有400亿美元的市值,但每一个季度都在亏损。

    相反,阿里巴巴确实盈利颇丰,2013年第四季度盈利达到人民币80亿元(合13亿美元)。值得注意的是,800万的淘宝卖家和天猫品牌店每年为其广告和产品展位付出的费用还在不断增长。

    但是从长远来看,淘宝这种以广告费用为主的商业模式并不适应中国未来的发展。很可能消费者在未来将转向那些能够保证质量、真实性、优质客服及高效快递的商家。而这都是亚马逊的长处所在。

    贝索斯的厉害之处在于,他已经表明了他愿意并且能够用股东的钱建立一个十年甚至十五年后才能开始盈利的企业。但是马云很可能不会拥有这种特权,尤其当阿里巴巴即将成为一家上市公司的时候。在未来,阿里巴巴也不太可能吸引到大量像亚马逊的股东那样有耐心的投资者。

    这也许是马云花了一大笔钱收购各种公司股份的原因之一。这其中包括了美国汽车服务公司Lyft,短信业务公司Tango,以及各种中国企业,包括中 国的微博,数字地图提供商高德,挂牌纽交所的优​​酷网以及在香港的电影工作室。他甚至还拥有了一支中国的职业足球队,试图改造中国足球备受指责的境况。 这一连串的动作显得有些杂乱和着急,似乎连马云也不能完全相信光靠淘宝就能够保持未来几年的飞速发展了。

    他近期最成功的一次尝试是去年开始的增值服务余额宝。相比较国内银行提供的低息活期利率,余额宝支付的利息为十倍以上,达到4%。截至今年9月初, 余额宝的规模超过人民币5740亿元,接近1000亿美元。此业务当然也不包括在此次上市主体中。这点出了马云的商业风格的另一个令人担忧的问题:他似乎 倾向于把一些更有价值的资产注入自己公司名下,而不是股东共同持股的公司旗下。雅虎和日本软银对此应该已经有过一些不太愉悦的经验了。

    贝索斯能在中国走多远?毕竟他不会说中国话,似乎也没有到中国访问过。他大概是唯一一个在中国拥有着庞大业务却没有到中国与各政府领导人座谈合影的 跨国企业CEO了。不跟中国政府打交道的外资企业能在中国做大做强吗?到目前为止亚马逊似乎做得还不错。那么,一个从迈阿密高中走出来的孩子真能比杭州本 地的马云建立一个更好的中国电子商务平台吗?我们早已发现,目前中国最成功的传统零售商,主要都是由国际品牌运营和管理的。国内零售商无法适应猖獗的网络 低价竞争时代。与之相比,Zara, H&M和Sephora都在中国发展良好。他们也专注于在那些中国企业常常忽视的细节,如良好的客户服务、无条件退货、低廉的价格和聪明的营销等 等。经过下周史上最大IPO之后,阿里巴巴的市值可能会暂时超越亚马逊(1530亿美元)。但是,随着时间的推移,亚马逊却很可能会被证明拥有比淘宝更有 价值的业务,无论是在全球范围,还是在中国。

    http://pinglun.21cbh.com/2014/9-15/zNMDAwMzZfMTMwNTIzNg.html

    -

    Sep 16 6:12 AM | Link | Comment!
  • China's Relentless Rise Enters A More Challenging Phase, Where Its Bold Ambitions Confront Stubborn, Often Centuries-Old Barriers. New Analytical Report Published By Investment Bank China First Capital

    Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China, August 5, 2014

    China's thirty year transformation into a global power is entering a new phase, with a set of challenges the country has yet to solve. The economy and society have both reached levels of wealth and development that were unimaginable 30 years ago. How can continue to China push forward, against deep-seated problems in generating real innovation, in sorting out land ownership, in attracting and rewarding global investment flows?

    These issues are examined in detail in the new research study published by China First Capital, a China-focused global investment bank with a six year history advising some of China's largest private sector companies, SOEs and global Fortune 500 companies.

    The new report is titled "China Survey 2014:The Rise Continues, New Directions & Challenges". Copies may be downloaded from the Research Reports page of the China First Capital website..

    "China's economy remains vibrant and fast-evolving," comments Peter Fuhrman, chairman and founder of China First Capital. "Many of the famous China corporate successes of recent years- KFC, P&G, Coca-Cola Company -- are finding it harder and harder to keep winning in the China market. As they lose share, other companies are gaining, both domestic and international. Our report looks at this transformation through the vantage point of our experience working in China alongside some talented CEOs."

    "Investing successfully in China, either through the stock market or through M&A, also remains challenging," Fuhrman continues. "But, the effort can be repaid, since no other country can rival China today in terms of both the number and scale of money-making opportunities. "

    The new China First Capital report discusses these broad trends, and also examines the following in depth:

    • is China's investment community (PE and VC firms, stock market investors over-allocating now to mobile services and online shopping;
    • an assessment of the serious challenge facing traditional shopping mall operators and retailers mainly because of competition from soon-to-IPO Alibaba's online shopping giant;
    • a sober analysis of actual disappointing state of China's high-tech industry;
    • how China triumphed over Indi and won the battle as the world's best and biggest Emerging Market,
    • why 3M may be the most successful American company in China, but flies so far beneath everyone's radar.

    Some of the report's content have previously been published on Seeking Alpha and on China Private Equity blog.

    "Our core conclusion is that China needs to become more innovative, generate more globally-important technology breakthroughs, " China First Capital's Fuhrman summarizes.

    "Among US and European investment banks here, China First Capital has especially deep roots in China, functioning more like a local domestic firm, and not a multi-national

    one. We see China's strengths up close, as well as some of the less obvious obstacles, the interplay of tradition and modernization, the enduring impact of Confucian traditions.

    It gives us a deep level of confidence that despite the challenges of the past and present, China's rise will continue."

    China First Capital is a China-focused international investment bank and advisory firm for private capital markets and M&A transactions in China. China First Capital has a disciplined focus on -- and strives for a leadership position in -- four distinct business areas.

    These are:
    - Private placement and equity financing for China's high-growth entrepreneur-led companies;
    - Private equity Secondaries, buy-side and sell-side representation for acquisitions
    and early liquidity events;
    - Strategic M&A transactions, domestic and cross-border;
    - Restructuring, financings and advisory for China's State Owned Enterprises.

    China First Capital serves a distinguished group of clients, including industry leaders in China, both private sector companies and SOEs, as well as global corporations actively expanding within China.

    China First Capital's research and analysis on China, its capital markets and private equity industry are often featured in international media including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, China Daily. China First Capital's chairman Peter Fuhrman is an occasional columnist for Seeking Alpha and three prominent Chinese-language business publications, 21st Century Business Herald, Caijing and Forbes China.

    For up-to--date commentary and analysis, visit: chinafirstcapital.com/blog

    For more information, contact:

    Email: info@chinafirstcapital.com

    Phone China: +86 755-86590540

    Aug 02 8:27 AM | Link | Comment!
Full index of posts »
Latest Followers

StockTalks

More »
Posts by Themes
Instablogs are Seeking Alpha's free blogging platform customized for finance, with instant set up and exposure to millions of readers interested in the financial markets. Publish your own instablog in minutes.