No Crocodile Tears for Alligators During a Recession

During times of recession Americans are less than keen on going shopping—no surprise here. Even when the economy is booming, most Americans never weigh the costs and benefits of buying alligator skin boots, belts or bags, wallets or watches. No matte

alligatorr how well the economy is doing, $2000 for Gucci alligator skin loafers or $100,000 for an alligator skin Birkin bag by Hermes, one of the most prominent players in exotic tannery business, never seems worthwhile. Apparently during recessions the wealthiest Americans are hit hard too—right in their $11,000 Burberry alligator skin wallets; but that’s just fine by the alligator population.

As it turns out, sales of alligator skin goods plummet during recessions. Economists first noticed this trend during America’s most recent financial crisis in 2009. There is little available data concerning alligator populations in the US, though experts generally believe that the total population has steadily increased since the 1970’s. Louisiana is home to one of the largest alligator populations in America, and the industry makes a somewhat significant contribution the state’s economy. Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website has an entire menu section dedicated to its “Alligator Program” that’s separate from information about other wildlife. Maintaining a healthy commercial farming population requires alligator farmers to rent helicopters to scout nesting areas, wade into marshes to collect the eggs (and potentially confront angry female alligators), and invest considerable time and energy into raising them in captivity. Bottom line: if hides aren’t selling farmers are losing a lot of money.

During the Great Recession many, if not all, of the state’s alligator farms experienced serious liquidity issues and worried about their business’s solvency going forward because the prices tanneries and high-end fashion houses were willing to pay for hides dropped so quickly. This industry was affected so severely that Louisiana’s Alligator Management Program report since 2008 lists an asterisk next to the revenue data from that year stating, “Worldwide economic recession caused alligator hide demand to decrease dramatically.”

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From 2002-2007 the total revenue from alligator hides increased sharply, reaching a peak value near $55 million. Total revenues decreased dramatically in 2008, rebounded slightly in 2009, and then dropped again in 2010; revenue fell to a fifth of what it was in 2007. These drops in revenue directly correspond to decreases in GDP the both Louisiana and the United States experienced in 2009.LAGDP

This correlation exists for earlier recessions as well. Commercial alligator farming was prohibited from 1965-1972 in an effort to protect the alligator population, so Louisiana only has data available beginning in the early 1970’s.  Quadrupling oil prices, high unemployment and a high inflation rate contributed to significant stagnation in the the U.S. economy from 1973-1975; alligator hide revenues in Louisiana also decreased by about 58% during this time. Revenues rose dramatically again in 1976, corresponding to an increase in GDP for both Louisiana and the U.S. The disparity was extreme: in 1975 revenues from farm alligator hide harvests totaled $3,597, compared to $34,259 in total revenue in 1976.

Alligator skin revenues in Louisiana dropped significantly again from 1981 to 1982, corresponding to another global economic slump in the early 1980s. USGDPWhen the stock market crashed in 1987 and the business cycle dipped from 1990-91, alligator hide revenues were along for the ride, stagnating from 1989 to 1990 and then decreasing sharply until 1992. Finally, total revenues decreased again from 2000 to 2001, which corresponds to a decrease in Louisiana’s GDP from 1999 to 2000, the burst of the dot.com bubble in 2000, and the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Revenue from alligator hides in Louisiana is currently on the rise again, at a time when IPO valuations and the S&P 500 are reaching record highs.

 

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that a decrease in revenues from a luxury good would correlate so well with economic downturns. Only the wealthiest portion of the population can afford goods made from alligator hides, and people typically assume that they are insulated from economic recession or hardship. Yet, this niche luxury goods industry experiences significant declines during periods of economic recession. While it’s no great tragedy that someone won’t be able to purchase exorbitantly-priced shoes, it is perhaps comforting to note that recessions and financial crises force every man to tighten his belt, whether it’s made from alligator leather or elastic.

Fashion Trend and the Economy in South Korea—Back to the Basics

Economy is interesting because it even affects what people wear. The most well-known fashion related economic indicator of all time is the Hemline Indicator, an idea that women’s hemlines are influenced by the macroeconomic performance. In other words, the shorter the skirt gets, the better the economy looks.

South Korea is currently struggling with economic recession. Its economy suffered its worst growth in more than a year during the second quarter of this year. The cloudy outlook for the economy in South Korea is therefore affecting latest fashion trends—people are going back to the basics.

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According to the data analysis that has been conducted by istyle24, one of the biggest online fashion retail store in South Korea, there was a huge rise in demand for basic fashion items. Comparing to last year, there was a 139% rise in classic tees, 78% rise in plaid/checkered shirts, and 54% rise in polos for men’s fashion items. Accordingly, the shop has also seen a 30% hike in basic tops and 42% rise in tanks in women’s items.

Moreover, the analysis also stated that there was a much higher demand in the market for white, black and gray color fashion items regardless of gender. Comparing to last year, fancier color such as pink, blue and orange items showed a 19% decline while there was a 21% growth in the market for achromatic color clothes.

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This interesting trend in the fashion market can be explained in a few ways. First of all, the price. Obviously people are having less money to spend on clothes and other luxury items due to economic recession.  Thus people are turning to something they can easily afford such as classic tees and basic tanks that are relatively cheap comparing to other kind of clothes. For instance, you can get a men’s v-neck tee that is as cheap as $3.80 at Forever 21.

Another big reason for growth in demand for basic style clothing is that they have high applicability. Consumers who now have less money to spend are not willing to take risks in buying clothes. In other words, people want to buy items that they know they will put on for sure instead of having to waste money on something that will be kept in their wardrobes forever. People in South Korea are basically taking advantage of inexpensive classic fashion items that can be easily matched with anything.

Whether it is the hemline or the t-shirts or whatever the fashion item may be, one thing we can know for sure is that economic recession makes people look less fancy.

 

 

Embrace Recessions, Hollywood!

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History tells us that recessions and Hollywood is like Oreo and milk – the perfect combination. Why? The above graph shows yearly changes in Gross Domestic Production (GDP) compared to the previous year and the number of movie tickets sold in the U.S in recent years. We can easily tell that, in most cases, consumers’ desire for movies is negatively correlated with the general economic environment. Namely, when people are “rich,” they’re more likely to splash out in town; while “they lose where they are, they go into the movie,” said Jeanine Basinger, a film historian and chairwoman of the film studies department at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

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Surely there’re exceptions, but Box Office doesn’t depend solely on GDP. Factors like the annual movie market situation and the quality of movies cannot be ignored. In 2008, the Great Recession began. However, from the first graph at the beginning, it seems that people didn’t go to theatres much at that time – but did they? According to Box Office Mojo, the number of movie tickets sold in 2008 was $1341.3 million, which was the lowest since 1996. But if we take a close look at statistics from the highest grossing movies in 2001 to 2013, American’s spending on The Dark Knight, the top box-office movie in 2008, has taken up 53.2% of the global market, which was the highest since 2001 – even Avatar was defeated! Perhaps the general movie quality  in 2008 was just so-so, and that was the reason why people wouldn’t watch more movies. However, no matter what reason it was, we can see that in most of the time, recessions give Hollywood kisses and hugs.

Some might argue that they watch fewer movies now than they did before recessions. Indeed, a poll conducted by Harris Interactive shows that 55% of people go to movie theaters much fewer than before. But another factor that affects box-office should be taken into consideration as well – the changes in ways of how people consume movies. At early times, people could only enjoy movies at cinemas. Then, Digital Video Disk (DVD) was invented – people could buy or rent movies to watch at home. Now, there’s Netflix!

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Netflix, Inc. is one of the top providers of on-demand Internet streaming media. It offers Hollywood another way to take a place in consumers’ life. Just take a look at how fast it’s been growing. Netflix’s revenue in 2013 was $4374.56 million, which was 28 times that in 2002. Up to the end of 2013, the number of subscribers of Netflix has reached 31.7 million. But it doesn’t stop there. Netflix has topped Q2 domestic subscriber growth targets in 2014 by 9.6%, and added another 570,000 U.S. streaming customers to the company – and counting.

“Many feel like recession still hasn’t ended,” this is the headline of a news report written by John W. Schoen on January 1, 2014 in USA Today. However, it seems that people’s passion for movies doesn’t fade even so. Maybe for a large number of people, going into “another world” by watching movies, or an inexpensive night at home with couple of drinks can be an escape, a solution or some kind of comfort against influences they get from the not-so-promising economy. Perhaps we can say that Hollywood is shelter for people to hide in, especially when they’re suffering from gloomy economic environment.

Leisure Time

A good measure of how the economy is doing, or an economic indicator, is what people do in their free time. For this blog post I chose the topic of video games, specifically E3. E3 is one of the biggest video game conferences in the United States where huge companies like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony make announcements about their new gaming systems.  In today’s economy, video games make money at a much quicker rate movies do. “Grant Theft Auto V, by Rockstar Games  make $800 million in its first 24 hours,” quoted by Anya Kamenetz, a blog post writer from Fast Company. Many people assume Hollywood is the biggest entertainment industry in terms of making money for California. However, video games are the silent winner that many people overlook.

In 2012, Activision, the major video game company that created Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, revealed that it had hit $1 billion dollars in sales in just 15 days. The top grossing movie of all time, “Avatar, took two days longer to earn the same amount” (Kamenetz).

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This graph shows the sales of video games from 2012 compared to the 2013. Looking closely one can see that at their peaks in December, sales from 2012 to 2013 have grown from $3.21 billion to $3.28 billion. Holiday season is the time when children know they can ask for the biggest present from the parents, so naturally the sales of video games in December greatly exceed the sale of video games any other time. If you look again at the graph, the points in the year of 2013 are slightly higher than the points from 2012, a clear economic indicator that the U.S. economy is steadily growing.

A convention that happens every year in the heart of Los Angeles is E3, home to one of the biggest video game, tech, and gadget shows. Polygon, one of the leading American websites online that informs its viewers about video game’s news, culture, and reviews, reported that some 48,000 people attended E3 this year, that’s 1.5% more people within the Los Angeles Conference Center than there was last year, a clear economic indicator that Los Angeles is not doing too bad for itself. Measuring an increase in video game purchases from year to year could be a good economic indicator; however having individuals wait hours in line just to go to a convention to hear when exactly the video games will come out e should reveal that the economy is doing well enough for individuals to sacrifice work time to attend this event.

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More simply, people not only have the free time to play video games, but they also have the free time to spend money on tickets to the event. If the economy was not doing so well, individuals  Video gaming is one of the biggest chunks of entertainment-related sales, so naturally using it as an economic indicate whether our economy is progressing or regressing.

 

Nick Wu

 

Enter the Chinese Philanthropy

NGOMore than 500,000 NGOs have registered over the past 25 years, a figure that some think will double over the next couple of years, as rules are relaxed. Many of these, admittedly, are quasi-state bodies, like an official youth foundation, or businesses in disguise, like private schools, but a growing number are the real deal. And a further 1.5m-odd NGOs operate without being registered, including some that the party suspects of being too independent or confrontational, according to Economist.

The essay from Economist reminds me of my recent experience about charity and NGO in China. I have never connected with any NGO in China before. However, in the past four months, I participated in an everyday philanthropy campaign for helping collect free lunch for poor kids in China villages from the beginning till now, launching online this Saturday (May 10th). We corporate with a Chinese NGO named “Free Lunch”, which especially helps with collecting money from companies and buying food for the kids who couldn’t eat hot meal for lunch. Our campaign is trying to ask young people overseas contribute simple actions (social media likes/shares, taking a photo/video) in exchange for free lunch (donated by companies) for starving kids in China. We named it “One Way“.

It’s not easy to communicate with a NGO group in China well, actually it became one of our biggest troubles. More people enter into NGO and help with charity should be a good thing. However, we haven’t set up a standard or rules for everyone to operate the group smoothly.

” Working with a Chinese NGO requires being flexible and adapting to sudden personnel or regulatory changes,” according to China Development Brief The report shows that we still not in a stable situation or circumstance for the development of NGO in China. I hope we could have more regulations in the near future and make it easier for young people who want to contribute to Chinese charity.

 

ChiNext Pioneers-Young Chinese Entrepreneurs

ChiNext is an important component of China’s multi-tier capital market system, which offers a new capital platform tailor-made for the needs of enterprises engaged in independent innovation and other growing venture enterprises. ChiNext Pioneers represent those entrepreneurs who are trying to start or operate their own businesses in US.

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Tianyi Zhong is one of those pioneers who are trying to start their own businesses. After getting his master degree in Information Technology and Services from USC, he and his girlfriend, Yi He opened a Chinese fast food delivery company, Chopopfoods.

“I always want to start my own business…I don’t like the food around our campus…so I think if I have chance to cook I would make it more delicious and healthy…Then I talked to my girlfriend and she supported my idea…Actually USC has a lot of Chinese students,” said Zhong.

After deep conversations with their parents, they decided to start their new business with the money, 50,000 dollars, supported by their parents.

As the largest segment of enrolled international population, USC has 2,515 Chinese students, which ranks NO.1 in US universities, according to annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education.

In September, after eight-month preparations, Zhong finally signed a contract with a professional catering kitchen in downtown area, Los Angeles and officially started his business in October.

They set up a website and an app, which both could search their menus and order meals online. After the first month, they built connections with some returned customers and their friends. On Chinese twitter, Weibo, they launched special order promotions for attracting customers and got much more followers than before. However, the booming market didn’t bring them more orders.

“…Eight to nine dollars for a combo is actually cheap for lunch…we plan to have 30-50 orders every day after the first month, but it’s much harder than we imagined…the truth is that we only have less than 15 orders every day…under our expectations,” said Zhong.

In December, China News, one of the largest Chinese news agencies, reported their story on Chinese websites. They were getting popular on Chinese Internet and even attracted Chinese investors who are in US.

“ The investor told me that he could invest around one million dollars…we met once in bay area before…it’s just unbelievable…We are going to meet again after New Year,” said Zhong.

In Las Vegas, Zhong and his girlfriend met their investor Mr. Xi. After two-day negotiations, 10,000 dollars would be put at the beginning stage for new products research such as fresh fruit juice and marketing plans, which means they have to change their original business model.

“ With the money we can hire more people to help us with market research and other stuff…but it’s getting a little bit different with our original goal… we are still thinking over the whole business plan,” said Zhong.

More than 200 million businesses are started in US every year, according to a study released today by the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, nearly 20 percent of immigrant-owned businesses started $50,000 or more in startup capital, compared to 15.9 percent for non-immigrant-owned business.

Zhong has entirely stopped his food delivery since February. They might need more time to adjust their dream and try to find a way to achieve it in the real world. They still have a long way to go.

 

Is China ready for Tesla?

In April, the initial delivery of Tesla arrived in China. As one of the first customers, Dongfeng Wang got the key from Elon Musk who is the founder of Tesla Automotive in Beijing. Wang described that driving Tesla reminds him of the experience using a new smartphone, according to Phenix.com.

“I fall in love with it at first sight, I paid 40,000 dollars for ordering a Tesla while I visited Tesla in Silicon Valley,” said Wang.

Building up the marketing team in China at the beginning of 2013, Tesla already received 5,000 orders all over China by the end of the year, even though they hadn’t set up any service store in Beijing yet. It became a new luxury fashion among Chinese rich people. The average price of a Tesla Model S costs about 800,000 RMB (around 150,000 dollars).

Tesla–the apple of auto industry 

Founded in 2003, Tesla, as an electronic car company, has been making records in the past few years not only for their plan to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory, but also for the new Arizona bill that would allow the company to sell cars and bypass dealers, a win in its ongoing battle in other states against dealer licensing regulations, according to Forbes, the interview with Eugene Groysman, an Apple expert at Marketocracy.

“Just like Apple, Tesla has an opportunity to revolutionize a market. With Apple it was the unique products of the iPod and iPhone that revolutionized the digital music and mobile phone markets,” said Groysman.

Elon Musk, as the founder of Tesla and Space X, created a new revolution in auto industry. Electronic car technology was not latest developed but Musk made it as a new fashion of driving. In Tesla’s 10 years of existence, the company has suffered through embarrassing delays and leadership overhauls, verged on bankruptcy at least once, and been a favorite target of short sellers. In May 2013, it posted its first profitable quarter, with earnings of $11.2 million; sales for the first quarter rose 83 percent, to $562 million. Now more and more young people love to choose a Tesla or make it as one of their dreams to achieve.

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Following Tesla’s lead, General Motor and Ford have started hiring software developers in its technology department. “The carmakers see kids opting to watch movies on their iPads instead of on pricey, built-in infotainment systems, and know they need to find a way to keep up”, by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Tesla has just released its Q1 financial results. Adjusted earnings per share came in at $0.12 per share, which was higher than the $0.07 expected by analysts surveyed. During the quarter, the company produced 7,535 models S and delivered 6,457, according to Bloomberg. The stock is down by around 6% in after-hours trading. Management expects about 7,500 deliveries in Q2 and says it’s on track for 35,000 deliveries for the year.

“We are expanding our factory capacity to support increased Model S production later this year and the introduction of Model X next year,” said Musk.

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Tesla’s Competitors

In the traditional auto industry, there are several old electronic car brands such as Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf. Tesla’s sedan may fall short of some of its electric competitors’ efficiency, but its driving range blows every one of them out of the water, according to an assessment website, Car and Driver. However, Tesla was outstanding on sales in the first quarter.

The company’s supercharger network is expanding quickly, it feels like a new location opens almost every other day. With 65 chargers in the U.S., 14 in Europe, and plans to expand it to China, Tesla is doing what it can to make it possible to drive its cars long distances given the constraints of current battery technology. The network is especially strong in California and along the west coast, where Teslas have been especially popular, according to Forbes.

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Coda and Fisker were two main competitors in the new electronic vehicle industry. Parent company Coda Holdings filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013 in Delaware. Bloomberg Business Week says Los Angeles-based Coda Holdings is seeking to sell its assets to a publicly traded private equity group, Fortress Investment Group, for $25 million. It listed assets of up to $50 million and debt of $100 million. Fisker lost money on its first model. Unlike Tesla, though, Fisker ran out of cash before it could rein in costs and establish tighter controls. Fisker stopped production in the summer of 2012, and was seeking new investment. Fisker eventually declared bankruptcy in November 2013, and in February 2014 the company was bought by Chinese auto-parts conglomerate Wanxiang Group, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

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At the same time, Tesla was also struggling with government rules in US. It has to overcome strong political opposition in many states. It is one of significant hurdles about which there is much disagreement.

If there’s a secret to Tesla’s success, it’s been to outsource as little as possible. According to Bloomberg, the company has insisted on doing just about everything it can in-house, which has helped it develop intellectual property and control costs. Tesla built the battery pack replacement feature into the Model S, for example, and then designed the robots that will do the work. None of the engineers came from the auto industry; they were largely solar-powered car hobbyists and gadget makers. A key decision by the founding crew was to lash together thousands of the lithium ion batteries found in laptops to form a giant battery pack.

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To the investor, the biggest concern is that the Model X and the new sedan won’t be cheap enough to attract regular buyers.

It won’t break down sales by state, though the company has opened multiple stores in New York, Texas, Illinois, and Florida, and says about three-quarters of revenue comes from outside California, according to Bloomberg, and its next test will be in Europe and Asia. Investors will be watching closely to see whether Germans and Chinese take to the car the way wealthy American geeks and eco-absolutists have—and if they do, how well that Fremont factory holds up under the stress. These are predictions for Tesla.

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Tesla vs. BYD 

Founded in 1995, BYD has developed very quickly at the early ages in China. Recent years, it has been losing power in China’s auto market. However they put more effort on digging into US market. A battery-powered, 40-foot bus is set to roll off the assembly line in a former recreational vehicle factory in Lancaster, California, a blue-collar desert community north of Los Angeles. The $38 billion Chinese conglomerate makes everything from electric cars to LED lighting to solar panels, according to Los Angeles Times.

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Most of media focused on BYD’s rocky entry into the U.S. market and his famous investor-Warren Buffet. California state regulators last year docked the company $99,245 for violating state labor laws by under-paying Chinese engineers it brought over to work at the Lancaster factory. The labor commission later dropped that charge and reduced the fine to $37,803 for minor infractions of state labor laws. However, it didn’t stop BYD to become the “official electronic vehicle”.

“BYD could make a Tesla any minute if consumer demand for electric cars really ramps up.” that was the latest bold claim by Wang Chuanfu, chairman of BYD.

Wang also acknowledged Tesla got an astonishing success at developing high-end electric cars, changing consumer-buying habits, and training environmentally conscious drivers. However, Wang believes that Tesla’s high-end electric car strategy is not compatible with BYD’s low-end consumer strategy. not planning to go head-to-head competition with Tesla.

“For us, the technology for pure electric car is not the problem. The problem is the market. To scale up new production capabilities, it takes about 4-5 years,” said Wang.

Holding 10% stake in the company back in 2008, Warren Buffet is BYD’s rock. At the moment, BYD’s all-electric e6 car—not a high-performance sports car like Tesla’s has been sold only in Shenzhen, where it is mainly used for taxicabs. It has struggled to gain traction due to a high sticker price, which costs about $60,000 in China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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As a hugely important market for Tesla and BYD, China will be their direct battlefield in next decades. According to Quartz, Dougherty & Company analyst Andrea James has said it has the potential to be the company’s second biggest market. Tesla unveiled highly competitive pricing for the Chinese market earlier this year and plans to start selling cars in April. Whatever Musk may have said in 2011, BYD may now be the company he has to beat.

Is China ready for Tesla?

A group of 23 Chinese Tesla buyers from cities other than Beijing and Shanghai has filed a class action against the company addressed to Tesla Automobile Sales (Beijing), Chinese retailer of Tesla, and CFO of the company Deepak Ahuja. Tesla is accused of consumer fraud or false advertising for changing the shipment order of the preordered automobiles without noticing the customers, according to TechNode.

The customers complained that Tesla promised consumers to ship products based on the payment order of deposit, which amounts to 250,000 RMB ($40,150), but customers in Beijing and Shanghai received emails to take their preordered cars recently, while buyers in areas other than these two cities are left behind. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla visited China last month and amid customer complaint turmoil.

Musk had another “mission” for his tour in China, handing keys to first delivery customers. He ever described China as a “wild card” in the company’s future. It’s all about timing.

China has set a target of having 5 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2020 as part of efforts to curb pollution, and other automakers are closely watching to see if Tesla can win over consumers in the market, according to LA times.

Beijing recently held a special auction for electric-vehicle license plates. The government also offers special incentives to buyers of Chinese-made electric vehicles, for instance, the Beijing municipal government enforced a quota of about 13% for hybrid electric and full-electric vehicles in the license plate registration lottery. And this share will keep increasing through 2017 to about 40%. The incentive has not been appealing enough for many in China. At the latest draw, while each permit for conventional gasoline autos received more than 90 bids, only 1,428 people applied for the 1,666 NEV plates on offer, according to ckgsb.edu. However, Tesla does not qualify for the program.

Besides government incentives, subsidies and tax reduction benefits provided for electric vehicles are certainly attractive in China.

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Based on the targets set out in March 2013, the overall number of NEVs must reach 0.5 million in 2015 and 2 million by 2020. This revised target is less than half of the target of 5 million set earlier for 2020. Also, according to IHS data, at the end of 2012 there were only 27,800 such vehicles on the road, of which 80% were electric buses. Last year China sold a total of 17,642 NEVs including the 11,963 passenger NEVs (refer to the graph). This brings the total number of NEVs in operation to 45,442 units.

Among the first nine buyers to receive their Model S cars, which sell for about $122,000 in China, were influencers such as Cao Guowei, CEO of Internet company Sina, and Yu Yongfu, chief executive of the mobile Internet browser company UCWeb, according to LA Times.

Tesla ever said that they would make the price “fair” in China. In fact, At least 800,000 RMB per car is a kind of rich people’s toy. For instance, Chinese automaker BYD’s all-electric e-6 car can be bought for under 400,000 RMB, and its model Qin for even less.

Tesla recently announced that they would produce a mass-market electric car” in three years. They are planning to build a large-scale factory that will allow it “to achieve economies of scale and minimize costs through innovative manufacturing, reduction of logistics waste, optimization of co-located processes and reduced overhead”.

At least, China still need more time to be ready for a big warm welcome for Tesla or other electric vehicle companies.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China’s E-commerce Giant Go to Public in US

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on Tuesday filed for its long-awaited initial public offering, one of the largest in history.

Alibaba –described as eBay, Amazon and Google rolled into one – was evaluated at $150 billion to $200 billion. Its stock debut immediately gave it a higher market value than Facebook and Amazon.

It was estimated that the Hangzhou-based tech behemoth to raise $15 billion to $20 billion, exceeding Facebook’s record-breaking $16 billion IPO in May 2012.

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, who was turned down for a number of jobs before starting his own e-commerce empire, including a manager post at a Kentucky Fried Chicken store.

Alibaba’s businesses include online shopping, business-to-business sales, online payments, shipping, wholesale trade and cloud computing. Alibaba’s retail marketplace last year processed 11.3 billion orders from 231 million active buyers for a total of $248 billion in purchases, more than the transaction volume on eBay and Amazon combined. On Singles Day in November, a popular holiday in China for online shopping, the company’s online retail portals processed $5.8 billion in spending. Alibaba earned net income reached about $1.4 billion last year with $5.6 billion in revenue.

While little known outside of China, Alibaba dominates the e-commerce market in the world’s second biggest economy. The company’s Taobao service has 800 million product listings from 8 million sellers. About 80 percent of all Chinese e-commerce transactions go through Alibaba.

The company also has strong U.S. ties. Yahoo owns a 22.6% stake in Alibaba. The IPO is great news for Yahoo investors and Yahoo shares rallied on that report. The Alibaba IPO filing followed the debut of Weibo , Chinese version of Twitter, which raised $286 million in April.

In the past few months, Alibaba invested $215 million in Mountain View mobile messaging service TangoMe, pouring $250 million into San Francisco ride-sharing app Lyft and $206 million worth of investment into ShopRunner, a delivery service for online purchases.

Alibaba has dropped billions of dollars to acquire other Chinese companies as well, including a $1.2 billion purchase last week of 16.5% share in China’s Youku and Tudou, Chinese equivalent to YouTube and Netflix.

However, Alibaba faces the challenge of convincing investors it will be a good buy.

The biggest concern has to do with transparency. People have suspicions about the way Chinese companies are operating, and they want know specific numbers and details about Alibaba’s books.

Analysts estimate the company could be worth $136 billion to $245 billion when it started to sell stocks, according to Wall Street Journal.

One key concern is where Alibaba’s core revenue growth is coming from and the company’s system for recording and reporting sales.

 

 

 

 

Crowdfunding – investment method of the future?

The advent of the internet allowed, for the first time, a more participatory, two-way form of communication. In the past, corporations and media companies broadcasted messages for the public to digest without offering a truly significant out for feedback save for letters to the editor. The internet however, created a collaborative platform in which not one single entity controlled the message. Users from around the world for the first time could engage in discussion and share ideas.

It is unsurprising, then, that the disruption of the model of communication would be echoed in the disruption of the traditional ways an entrepreneur would seek funding. While in the past entrepreneurs and hopeful business owners would have to rely on investors, loans or their own money, the emergence of the internet has allowed for a fairly new form of funding: crowdfunding.

According to Investopedia, crowdfunding is defined as “the use of small amounts to capital from a large number of individuals in finance a new business venture.” Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and crowdfunding work in perfect tandem to attract as many investors as possible for the business venture.

There are two main models of crowdfunding: donation-based and investment crowdfunding. As the name suggests, with donation-based crowdfunding, funders willingly donate money towards some collaborative goal. More often than not, these funders will receive some sort of reward based on how much money they donate. For example, in the case of funding a new album for a band, a funder may receive a CD for donating $10, or a private concert for donating $10,000.

Investment crowdfunding is different in the sense that funders will gain a portion of the business in form of stocks, equity or debt in return for their investment. In this model, funders have the opportunity to make money off their investment as opposed to the donation-based model, where funders will only receive a product or service (similar to pre-ordering an item.)

Research conducted by Massolution, an association dedicated to researching crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, showed that “crowdfunding platforms raised $2.7 billion and successfully funded more than 1 million campaigns in 2012.” Forecasts see these numbers increasing dramatically over the next few years as the successes of crowd-sourced projects continue to catch the public’s and potential business owners’ interests.

Crowdfunding offers many advantages over traditional forms of investment. First of all, it greatly benefits small businesses which lack the cash or resources in order to grow. When seeking funding for a project, the business sets a time limit (varying from a few weeks to a few months) and a target goal. Furthermore, details of the product are made available to the public, and the business’ financial records are made more transparent. Funders are also able to see the progress a business is making towards achieving that goal. Funders can be as involved as they like in the process by tracking progress, asking questions and offering suggestions. This creates a closer bond between the funder and the project owner, which creates a greater sense of loyalty and a better chance of retaining the funder as a potential customer.

There are various different crowdsourcing platforms available, but the most popular and most successful websites are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Crowdfunder. There are also more industry-specific crowdfunding websites such as Pledgemusic, which allows fans to contribute money towards their favourite artist to help them fund their next album or music endeavours.

 

Kickstarter, the biggest crowdfunding platform, was founded in 2009. In 2013 alone, 3 million people pledged $480 million to Kickstarter projects. 19,911 projects were successfully funded, resulting in the development of those products or services that were offered.

There are many projects which have become famous and popular in their own right after being funded on Kickstarter. Pebble – a customizable smartwatch which can connect to one’s iPhone or Android phone – is one of the most successful projects successfully funded by Kickstarter. The project attracted 68,929 backers and raised $10,266,845 out of the $100,000 goal it set. While the project is no longer open on Kickstarter, its enormous success allowed it to grow as a business and offer new and updated models from their website.

What made Kickstarter such an effective and popular platform was its unique business model. Kickstarter adopted an “all or nothing” approach. A project must achieve 100% of its funding goal in order to receive the funds. If a project is unable to reach the goal, the funds are returned to the backers. For every successful project, Kickstarter receives 5% commission. This means that with just the Pebble project alone, Kickstarter received $513,342.25 by simply hosting the project on their website. If the product is distributed on Amazon, Amazon will also take a commission of 2%.

However, Kickstarter – and crowdfunding – has its downsides as well. One of the general misconceptions of crowdfunding is that it is an easier way of obtaining funds. However, backers need to have faith in the product or service that is being offered – their ‘donation’ is essentially a vote of confidence. This means that one can’t just have an idea and post it on Kickstarter – they need to have already invested some of their own money in creating a prototype, videos and pictures to show the public. There is a risk on the backer’s side too: by pledging an amount of money, the backer is risking receiving a delayed, faulty, and/or low quality product that may not reach their expectations.

A committed community is also essential in order to reach the required number of backers. Due to Kickstarter’s “all or nothing” business model, it is imperative that a project receives at least 100% of their goal – else their efforts will have gone to waste. Kickstarter is also purely online. It is difficult to translate the efforts to raise money offline, and offline donations do not count towards the Kickstarter goal.

Overall, crowdfunding opens up many opportunities to small businesses that may not have otherwise been able to raise fund, and generates interest in creative and unique ideas. Crowdfunding, when done correctly, can clearly encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. With any investment, however, there is a risk in something not living up to one’s expectations. One also needs to keep in mind that the more investors, the more people one needs to please.

Additional sources:

http://www.crowdfunding.com/

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/crowdfunding.asp

http://www.forbes.com/sites/chancebarnett/2013/05/08/top-10-crowdfunding-sites-for-fundraising/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/geristengel/2014/05/07/crowdfunding-is-more-than-just-the-money-it-helps-you-raise/

https://www.kickstarter.com/year/2013/?ref=footer#6-pebble

http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2012/11/30/kickstarter-dream-maker-or-promise-breaker/

 

 

 

Entertainment, South Korea’s Darling Export

 

 

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These images above are some of the most recognizable icons in the South Korean entertainment industry.  The Korean Wave, or hallyu, is still going strong, continuing to shape East Asian culture and trickling to parts of Europe as well. As an outsider, it is easy to ask, “What makes Korean entertainment so great?” What has made this tiny peninsula–divided in half–an Asian entertainment powerhouse?

The success of South Korea’s entertainment industry can be traced back to the Kim Dae Sung Administration in the late 1990s. During this time, the government’s investment in cultural products increased dramatically. One motivation was to strengthen its domestic market against the Japanese cultural products lingering from the colonial days. Another reason was to recover from the crippling Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, when the country’s GDP dropped 7%. In order to reinvigorate the economy and to raise South Korea’s global profile, President Kim put his faith into the entertainment industry, planting the seed of the hallyu phenomenon. In 1998, the Culture Ministry executed its first five-year campaign, including an increase of culture and fine arts departments in colleges. In 2002, the ministry opened the Korea Culture an Content Agency to encourage exports, sparking the beginnings of the Korean Wave, and injected funding into the Korean Film Council. The results were astronomical. The size of South Korea’s entertainment industry, jumped from $8.5 billion in 1999 to $43.5 billion in 2003. Cultural product exports were so insignificant before 1998 that the government could not even provide figures. Five years later, the number would grow to $650 million.

According to a Oxford Economics report titled, “The economic contribution of the film and television industries in South Korea,” the film and television sector have directly contributed 7,749 billion Won to the South Korean GDP in 2011. It has also supported 67,600 jobs and 3,752 billion Won in tax revenues. Average growth of this industry from 2005-2011 has been 10.7%. From this figures, it is clear this industry provides direct support to the country’s economy.

Cultural exports have promoted tourism and business into Korea, particularly from South East Asia. Past work by the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) suggested that Hallyu related tourism amounted to $825 million in 2004. I definitely experienced the impact of hallyu when I visited Seoul for a cultural immersion program. The hot tourist spots were cafes that were themed with a certain popular drama (for instance, the “Coffee Prince Cafe”). There was a statue of the famous lovers from the classic soap opera, Winter Sonata, one of the most successful Korean dramas to date. Many tourists sign up for hallyu-themed tours that take visitors to production sites of famous dramas and films.

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What South Korea ultimately gained from their investment in entertainment was soft power. There have been instances where the government leveraged its cultural exports as means of diplomacy. For instance, the official Korean Overseas Information Service gave airing rights to “Winter Sonata” to Egyptian television. They even paid for Arabic subtitles in hopes of generating positive feelings toward South Korean soldiers stationed in northern Iraq.

Another crucial factor of the Hallyu wave has been the web. There is greater access to content than ever before. Anyone can consume foreign content with the swipe of their phone. Online fan communities were formed to share and distribute Korean content. Youtube channels or content websites like mysoju.tv effectively crowd-source translators, graphics personnel, and coders to recreate original Korean content with subtitles and high quality streams. In 2010, an website turned app called “Viki” was launched by a group of Harvard and Stanford students who aggregated the fan-created content to one platform. According to their website, “Viki, a play on the words video and wiki, is a global TV site powered by a volunteer community of avid fans.”

It seems South Korea’s  investment in entertainment exports was money well spent. I am scheduling a 20-hour binge session of “Alien from Another Planet” after finals as we speak.

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