Apple Launches Promo in China Offering Interest-Free Financing When Purchasing New iPhone

Apple is teaming up with Chinese payments company Ant Financial Services Group, along with several local banks, to offer local customers interest-free financing on iPhones in China (via Reuters). Apple is continuously looking to boost smartphone sales in China, and this appears to be the latest move in the company’s long-term plan to do so.

On its China website, Apple explains that customers can pay 271 yuan ($40.31) per month for the iPhone XR, and 362 yuan ($53.87) per month for the iPhone XS. If customers trade in older models of iPhone, they’ll get cheaper installment plans.

In total, customers buying an iPhone worth a minimum of 4,000 yuan (around $595) will qualify for interest-free financing that can be paid over three, six, nine, 12, or 24 months.

Apple has always struggled with iPhone sales in China, and according to Strategy Analytics, the company shipped an estimated 2.5 million fewer iPhones in China in 2018 than in 2017. The company’s products have historically been categorized as too expensive for the China market, losing out to low-cost alternatives from popular local rivals like OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi.

In recent weeks, reports have suggested that Apple is seeing improved iPhone sales in China thanks to recent price cuts to the iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, and older models. According to Feng, data sourced from Alibaba suggests that iPhone sales on the site have increased by 76 percent in China since January 13, 2019.

The launch of China’s limited-time promotion follows similar offers that have rolled out to a few regions around the world, including a trade-up promo in the United States. In emails sent to customers and on its website, Apple encourages shoppers to upgrade to an iPhone XR from $449 or iPhone XS from $699, with the trade in of an iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8.

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Apple is offering interest-free financing to boost iPhone sales in China

Apple is looking to get over its sales woes in China but offering prospective customers interest-free financing with a little help from Alibaba.

Apple’s China website now offers financing packages for iPhones that include zero percent interest packages provided in association with several banks and Huabei, a consumer credit company operated by Alibaba’s Ant Financial unit, as first noted by Reuters.

The Reuters report further explains the packages on offer:

On its China website, Apple is promoting the new scheme, under which customers can pay 271 yuan ($40.31) each month to purchase an iPhone XR, and 362 yuan each month for an iPhone XS. Customers trading in old models can get cheaper installments.

Users buying products worth a minimum of 4,000 yuan worth from Apple would qualify for interest-free financing that can be paid over three, six, nine, 12 or 24 months, the website shows.

Apple is also offering discounts for customers who trade in devices from the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi and others.

The deals are an interesting development that comes just weeks after Apple cut revenue guidance for its upcoming Q1 earnings. The firm trimmed its revenue from the $89 billion-$93 billion range to $84 billion on account of unexpected “economic deceleration, particularly in Greater China.”

Offering attractive packages may convince some consumers to buy an iPhone, but there’s a lingering sense that Apple’s current design isn’t sparking interest from Chinese consumers. Traditionally, it has seen a sales uptick around the launch of iPhones that offer a fresh design and the current iPhone XR, XS and XS Max line-up bears a strong resemblance to the one-year-old iPhone X.

The first quarter of a new product launch results in a sales spike in China, but Q2 sales — the quarter after the launch — are where devices can underwhelm.

It’ll be interesting to see if Apple offers similar financing in India, where it saw sales drop by 40 percent in 2018 according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s market share, which has never been significant, is said to have halved from two percent to one percent over the year.

Finance is a huge issue for consumers in India, where aggressively priced by capable phones from Chinese companies like Xiaomi or OnePlus dominate the market in terms of sales volume. With the iPhone costing multiples more than top Android phones, flexible financing could help unlock more sales in India.

China, however, has long been a key revenue market for Apple so it figures that this strategy is happening there first.

China wants its rural villages to go cashless by 2020

Residents of even the tiniest far-flung villages in China may soon be able to pay on their phones to run daily errands as Beijing announced this month that it aims to make mobile payments ubiquitous in rural areas by the end of 2020.

The plan arrived in a set of guidelines (document link in Chinese) jointly published by five of China’s top regulating bodies, including the central bank, the Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the Securities Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, in a move to make online financial services more accessible to rural residents.

The hope is that by digitizing the lives of the farming communities, from getting loans to buy fertilizers to leasing lands to city developers, China could bolster the economy in smaller cities and countryside hamlets. Hundreds of millions of rural Chinese have migrated to large urban centers pursuing dreams and higher-paying jobs, but 42 percent of the national population remained rural as of 2017. While scan-to-pay is already a norm in bigger cities, digital payments still have considerable room to grow in rural towns. All told, 76.9 percent of China’s adults used digital payments in 2017. That ratio was 66.5 percent in rural parts, according to a report released by the central bank.

Following the digital payments pledge was the release of the annual Number One Document (in Chinese) that outlines China’s national priorities for the year. Over the past 16 years, China has devoted the paper to its rural economy and this year, digital integration continues to be one of the key goals. More precisely, Beijing wants rural officials to ramp up internet penetration, the digitization of public services, sales of rural produce to city consumers, and more.

Those directives usher in huge opportunities for companies in the private sector. Tech heavyweights such as Alibaba and were already looking outside megacities a few years ago. Both have set up online channels enabling farmers to sell and buy as well as working with local governments to build up logistics networks.

Alibaba notably invested in Huitongda, a company that provides merchandising, marketing and supply chain tools to rural retail outlets. Despite posting the slowest revenue growth in three years, Alibaba saw exceptional user growth in rural regions. Similarly, JD’s daily orders from smaller Tier 3 and 4 cities were growing 20 percent faster than those in Tier 1 and 2 cities like Beijing and Hangzhou, the company said in 2017.

Other players went with a rural and small-town play early on. Pinduoduo, an emerging ecommerce startup that’s close on the heels of Alibaba and JD, gained a first-mover advantage in these less developed regions by touting cheap goods. Kuaishou, a Tencent-backed video app that rivals TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin, has proven popular in the hinterlands as farmers embrace the app to showcase the country life and sell produce through live streaming.

Vynn Capital snags investment from Malaysia’s MAVCAP for its maiden Southeast Asia fund

Vynn Capital, a new entrant to Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem, is gearing up to close its maiden fund after it landed an undisclosed sum from Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP) as one of its anchor LPs.

Founded by former Gobi Ventures VC Victor Chua and Singaporean investor Darren Chua (no relation) one year ago, Kuala Lumpur-based Vynn is targeting a $40 million fund for Southeast Asia. The firm has already made four investments and, on the LP side, gone after traditional businesses and Southeast Asia’s family corporations. Landing MAVCAP — which is Malaysia’s largest investor has backed VC funds including Gobi — is a major coup for a debut fund.

“The investment from MAVCAP is a very good validation for Vynn Capital,” said Victor Chua, who is Malaysian. “Personally, having been active in the local and regional ecosystem, I’ve benefited from the growth trajectory of the ecosystem and am now able to launch a new fund that is addressing the need of the traditional businesses to be innovative.”

“The thesis of the fund is Southeast Asia, but through our investment we are focused on how it will be invested in Malaysian deals,” MAVCAP’s Shahril Anas told TechCrunch in an interview. “We have some carry and expect returns that we can invest into local entrepreneurs in Malaysia, we are also keen to look at how other countries’ economies interact with startups.”

Anas said the approach is to be very hands-off, MAVCAP has various other fund investments, but he reiterated that there may be specific data or insight that the organization looks to glean.

Southeast Asia is emerging from the shadows of China and India to become a target market for startups and, by extension, the investors who write the checks to finance them.

Beyond a cumulative population of over 600 million people, the region’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to grow to $240 billion by 2025 from $31 million in 2015, according to a report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek.

Some of the other investors vying for a slice of the opportunity include new funds from Openspace Ventures ($135 million), Indonesia-focused Intudo ($50 million), Qualgro ($100 million) and Golden Gate Ventures ($100 million) and Sequoia India ($695 million).

Baidu’s video site iQiyi adds 37M subscribers in 2018 amid mounting losses

China’s Baidu, which is often compared to Alphabet’s Google, is showing no signs of slowing down its pace of betting on video content as its core advertising unit feels the squeeze from rivals. The company’s latest financial results show its video streaming business iQiyi posted a net loss of 9.1 billion yuan or $1.3 billion in 2018, compared to just 3.74 billion yuan in 2017.

Not long ago, iQiyi announced raising $500 million in convertible notes to fuel its spending spree. The video site, which filed for a $1.5 billion U.S. IPO last February, aspires to be the “Disney of China” with a Netflix-style production house and a plan to merchandise a library of intellectual property. Baidu also felt the heat as content costs from 2018 jumped 75 percent to $3.42 billion mainly on account of iQiyi expenses.

The cash burn appears to be paying off. IQiyi added 36.6 million subscribers last year, bringing its total users to 87.4 million. 98.5 percent of them were paying, a promising ratio given Chinese users were long used to getting free content in a country with rampant online piracy. IQiyi’s most serious contender Tencent Video had 82 million users as of Q3.

2018 also turned out to be the first time Baidu has crossed the 100 billion yuan earnings mark as the firm pocketed 102.3 billion yuan ($14.88 billion) in total revenues, an increase of 28 percent from 2017.

In Q4 alone, Baidu’s total revenues grew 22 percent to $3.96 billion at a slower rate compared to the previous quarter. Online advertising from search results, news feed and video content still made up the majority of the company’s income despite the considerable resources the behemoth has poured into autonomous driving and other AI-focused efforts.

Meanwhile, Baidu’s lucrative advertising business is facing heightened competition from ByteDance, the fast-ascending new media company with a suite of news and video apps that are proven popular with marketers. The Beijing-based firm that’s also unnerved Tencent was expected to achieve $7.4 billion in revenues last year, Bloomberg reported citing sources.

To fend off attackers, Baidu has broadened its advertising inventory beyond the web to include the likes of elevators. In another move, Baidu paid $133 million in cash prizes luring users to its namesake search app on the eve of Chinese New Year. But its search service has over the years been a repeated target for criticism on issues ranging from false medical ads to more recently the subpar quality of its search results. Baidu has nonetheless held onto its commanding position in a market where Google is absent and smaller players like Bing and Sogou remain the underdogs.

On the AI front, Baidu made a total of 13 investments in 2018 that made it the most prolific corporate venture capital focused on the realm, according to a report from CB Insights. Microsoft’s M12 venture and Google Ventures followed closely behind.

Though Baidu’s AI business is far from achieving mass commercialization, the segment has scored some notable landmarks. Over 200 million devices now use DuerOS, the company’s answer to the Alexa voice assistant. Baidu’s autonomous driving open platform Apollo has accumulated 135 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including Volvo, which is working with its Chinese ally to deliver level four self-driving passenger vehicles that can operate on pre-mapped roads with minimum human intervention.

As shared kitchens heat up, a China-based startup, Panda Selected, nabs $50 million led by Tiger Global

A few weeks ago, we told you that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick looks to be partnering with the former COO of the bike-sharing startup Ofo, Yanqi Zhang, to bring his new L.A.-based company, CloudKitchens, to China. Kalanick didn’t respond to our request for more information, but according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), his plan is to provide local food businesses with real estate, facilities management, technology and marketing services.

He might want to move quickly. Kitchens that invite restaurants to share their space to focus on take-out orders is a concept that’s picking up momentum fast in China. And one company looks to have just assumed pole position in that race: Panda Selected, a Beijing-based shared-kitchen company that just raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from earlier backers DCM and Glenridge Capital. The round brings its total funding to $80 million.

Little wonder there’s a contest afoot. China’s food-delivery market is already worth $37 billion dollars, according to the SCMP, which says 256 million people in China used online food ordering services in 2016, and the number is expected to grow to 346 million this year.

And that’s still a little less than a quarter of the country’s population of 1.4 billion people.

Panda Selected is wasting little time in trying to reach them. While SCMP says that online delivery services already blanket 1,300 cities. Panda Selected, founded just three years ago, says it already operates 120 locations that cover China’s biggest centers, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. It claims to work with more than 800 domestic catering brands, including Luckin Coffee, Kungfu and TubeStation. The company also says that its kitchens are typically 5,000-square-feet in size and can accommodate up to 20 restaurants in each space.

With its new funding, it expects to double that number over the next eight months, too, its  founder, Haipeng Li, tells Bloomberg. That’s going to make it difficult to challenge, especially by any U.S.-based company, given overall relations between the two countries and the ever-changing regulatory environment in China.

Then again, this may be just the first inning. Stay tuned.

Alibaba hits the gas on mobility as its bike sharing service adds carpooling

Carpooling is heralded to be environmentally friendly and money-saving, but in smog-stricken China, the transportation option became a source of public concerns after two female passengers got murdered during their lifts with Didi Chuxing drivers. The ride-hailing app has suspended its Hitch service to this date under government command, and its peers were also directed to step up safety measures for their own offerings.

The regulatory crackdown led to a shortage of cheap rides with strangers in China, but a newcomer is charging full speed ahead to reinvigorate the market. Hello TransTech, formerly Hellobike, will officially launch its carpooling service nationwide on February 22 after piloting the program for about a month. The move sets Hello up for a clash with market dominator Didi, which has been in hot water following the high-profile accidents last year.

Hello is relatively late to the ride-hailing game, but it’s got powerful backers who could potentially help it gain a meaningful foothold. Among its main investors is Ant Financial, the financial service company controlled by Alibaba’s billionaire founder Jack Ma and the creator behind one of China’s largest digital wallets Alipay . Besides shelling out checks, Ant also sent many users to HelloTrans Tech when the latter first started as the bike-rental company Hellobike. For instance, Alipay’s hundreds of millions of users could easily access Hellobike without having to download its standalone app.

As the Chinese internet becomes occupied and colonized by tech heavyweights, teaming up with a major player almost becomes a prerequisite for aspiring startups to crack their market. Another case in point is Tencent being a boon to Didi’s early user acquisition by letting the ride-hailing app tap its popular WeChat messenger app and payments service.

Alibaba’s transportation ambition is a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, Hello competes with Didi Chuxing (which Alibaba is also involved as a minority stakeholder) in offering on-demand rides, a category that’s become more onerous to the operator as Chinese regulators introduce stricter safety policies. On the other hand, Alibaba applies what it’s best at — the asset-light platform play — to ride-hailing with its own mapping service AutoNavi acting as a marketplace for third-party apps including Didi and AutoNavi.

It could be a few more years before it’s clear which of Alibaba’s strategies will stick it out. Didi still takes the lead with 66 million unique devices on its app in December, according to data collected by research firm iResearch. Hello was a tenth of its size at 6.3 million.

Hellobike declined to answer questions from TechCrunch about its new carpooling service. However, it did say it will hold a press event for the new service soon. We’ll update this story with any new details that come out of it.

US eases fears over China trade war – business live

President Trump says there is ‘no magical date’ in trade talks with China, raising hopes that a tariff increase on 1 March will be avoided

  • Eurozone economy ‘close to stagnation’ in February
  • Barclays pledges to hand shareholders more cash
  • Centrica shares fall after gloomy outlook for 2019

Breaking: Good news for Philip Hammond, after public finances hit a record surplus of £14.9bn in January thanks to strong income tax receipts.

It easily beat City expectations of a £10.05bn surplus, and compared with borrowing of £3bn in December.

Data just out shows the eurozone economy was almost at a standstill in February.

The ‘flash’ PMI surveys from IHS Markit suggest the region’s manufacturing sector contracted unexpectedly this month – and for the first time in more than five years – while the services sector grew at a faster than expected rate.

The Eurozone economy remained close to stagnation in February. The flash PMI lifted only slightly higher during the month, continuing to indicate one of the weakest rates of expansion since 2014. The survey data suggest that GDP may struggle to rise by much more than 0.1% in the first quarter.

The weakness is being led by manufacturing, which has now entered its first downturn since mid- 2013. With factory order books deteriorating at an increased rate, the rate of contraction in the goods- producing sector will likely worsen in coming months.

At the other end of the table, Barclays is the biggest FTSE riser this morning after a pledge to return more money to investors.

Related: Barclays pledges to return more money to shareholders

Shares in Centrica are down 11% this morning at 122p after the parent company of British Gas gave a very gloomy outlook for the year ahead.

Profits rose in 2018 but the company lost 742,000 accounts and said profits this year would be hit by the energy price cap imposed by the regulator, Ofgem.

We have been very clear that we do not believe a price cap is a sustainable solution for the market, and is likely to have unintended consequences for customers and competition.

Yes, the profits are up, but with price caps being pinned on suppliers and the precarious nature of the energy industry any expansion within the sector is a nervy and tentative process.

Our ‘red flag alert’ has shown a contraction in the market with more than 3,000 utilities providers in significant financial distress – a number that increased 2% in the lead up to the Christmas period. And some smaller providers such as Utilitywise have already gone into administration in 2019.

Most European markets are mainly higher this morning, following a more optimistic mood in Asia and on Wall Street.

The FTSE 100 is the exception, down 25 points. More on that soon.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

Asian markets have followed Wall Street higher this morning after Donald Trump boosted hopes that a planned increase in tariffs to 25% on goods imported from China could be avoided.

European Opening Calls:#FTSE 7222 -0.10%#DAX 11454 +0.46%#CAC 5213 +0.33%#MIB 20374 +0.35%#IBEX 9206 +0.27%

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