TIME Wealth

Jack Ma Is the Richest Person in Asia

Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview, in New York City on March 12, 2009.
Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview in New York City on March 12, 2009 Chip East—Reuters

There are no surprises here, really

Jack Ma is Asia’s wealthiest billionaire.

Ma, the founder of China’s e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, as well as a runner-up for TIME’s Person of the Year, is worth $28.6 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 50-year-old is worth about $300 million more than Hong Kong real-estate-and-ports tycoon Li Ka-shing, who had been Asia’s richest person since April 5, 2012.

About half of Ma’s fortune comes from his 6.3% stake of Alibaba. The Hangzhou-based company is larger than Amazon.com and worth about $259 billion.


TIME Music

Taylor Swift Takes Her Music Off Chinese Streaming Services

Taylor Swift Performs On ABC's "Good Morning America"
Taylor Swift Performs On ABC's "Good Morning America" at Times Square on October 30, 2014 in New York City. Jamie McCarthy—Getty Images

Will her refusal to stream for free lose her fans in a growing music market?

Earlier this year, Taylor Swift sold out Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena in one of her final concerts promoting her album Red. But today, Swift’s vociferous fans across China, just like their American counterparts, no longer have free access to her material.

This shouldn’t be surprising: Swift has removed her music from free streaming services globally, telling TIME: “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art.” But in the U.S., at least, there’s a popular option available for purchasing that art. Swift’s album sold huge amounts of copies at physical retailers like Target and on iTunes. But trade site China Music Business makes clear that the Chinese music-listening public isn’t accustomed to downloading music, and that the share of music consumption via download (as opposed to streaming) is only shrinking. In the U.S., Taylor Swift’s desire to ensure her music isn’t streamed for free is viable. There’s an existing music-sales apparatus that people are accustomed to using. Even a star of Swift’s caliber, though, may not be able to sell records in China.

This makes Swift’s removing her music from Chinese streaming services in some ways a bigger risk than her doing the same stateside, not least because those services aren’t necessarily equipped to accommodate her requirement that her music be on a special paid tier (Xiami, an Alibaba-owned streaming service with two different tiers separated by audio quality, cannot do so due to “technical issues”). Another problem for Swift: The companies have communicated almost nothing about the singer’s decision to the Chinese public. (The Spotify-Swift debate that’s still ongoing in the U.S. has as its Chinese counterpart bland statements from streaming services about “copyright reasons.” Swift has phenomenal power, to be sure. But overcoming ingrained issues with a listening public very different from America’s may well test that power’s limits.

TIME technology

Alibaba Links Women’s Bra Sizes to Their Online Spending Patterns

The bigger the bust, the bigger the spending

Alibaba has a lot of consumer data at its fingertips as one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world. And just what insights is the Chinese online giant gleaning from that data? Well, Alibaba has linked women’s bra size to their online shopping habits—and it found that the bigger the cup size, the bigger the spending.

The data point no one asked for!

Alibaba vice president Joseph Tsai talked to Quartz about findings that 65% of women with a B cup fell into the “low” spending category, while those with a C cup or higher were in the “middle” and “high” demographics.

“We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” he said of the company’s data-dive. “We really haven’t done even 5% of leveraging that data to really make our operations more efficient, consumers more satisfied.”

Considering that Alibaba had a whopping $9 billion in sales during Singles’ Day—the 11/11 holiday involving epic amounts of retail therapy—who knows what other bizarre spending trends it will find.


MONEY online shopping

China Can Have Singles Day. We’ve Got Self-Gifting

Gift with tag that reads "To: Me. Love, Me"
Caspar Benson—Getty Images

Why would we need a day devoted to buying stuff for yourself when that's what many American consumers do year-round?

In China, Nov. 11 (a.k.a. 11/11) is celebrated as Singles Day. The event originated as Bachelor’s Day in the 1990s, an anti-Valentine’s Day when those without significant others were encouraged to celebrate their non-attached status by purchasing gifts for themselves. Lately it has evolved into an all-consumers-welcomed price-slashing online shop-a-thon in China—something akin to the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend rolled into one day—and it’s dominated by Alibaba, China’s largest e-retailer.

Alibaba reportedly surpassed $9 billion in sales in 24 hours. For the sake of comparison, online sales in the U.S. reached $1.7 billion on Cyber Monday last year, and Black Friday 2013 e-commerce spending hit around $1.2 billion. (Sales rung up inside physical stores are far, far higher than online sales on Black Friday, of course.)

Leading up to Singles Day, some e-retailers and their public relations pros were trying to push the idea that Americans should embrace the day with Singles Day purchases of their own. Why should China have all the fun, after all? And Alibaba CEO Jack Ma told CNBC today he expects the U.S. and the rest of the world to join in Singles Day celebrations (by buying stuff–a lot of stuff) by 2019 if not sooner. At last check, slightly more than half of those voting in a CNBC poll said they would, in fact, celebrate Singles Day, compared with 37% who said nope, not gonna go there.

A potential U.S. version of Singles Day comes with complications, however, starting with the fact that Nov. 11 is already celebrated as Veterans Day. It’s one thing for retailers and restaurants to bump up store traffic and promote their brands with free food deals and Veterans Day sales on furniture, electronics, and clothes. It’s an entirely different proposition to supplant the day devoted to thanking our nation’s vets and active-duty military for their selfless service with one squarely focused on overtly selfish consumerism.

It’ll be “very, very difficult,” for retailers to get American consumers on board with Singles Day, Randy Allen, a Johnson Graduate School of Management professor, said to Businessweek. “People look at holidays that we’ve got and say, ‘Where would you fit another one in? Do I really want to have to buy gifts for another holiday? Is this really something that’s important to me?’ ”

The calendar is already full of fake holidays, many of them devoted to treating oneself—Splurge Day anyone? What’s more, the fake marketing holidays reach an especially frenzied pace around this time of year, what with “events” such as National Regifting Day and Gift Card Weekend fighting for our attention. It’s also worth reminding folks that “genuine” shopping phenomena like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are totally made-up holidays too, created for the express purpose of getting people to buy stuff.

Above all, let’s not pretend that any of these days are exclusively about gift giving. Sure, the traditional idea of holiday shopping is that you’re shopping for other people. But that’s hardly the only reason people hit the malls on Black Friday and browse online on Cyber Monday, ready to pounce on deals.

The self-gifting trend—buying yourself a “gift” during holiday shopping outings—has been popular for years. A National Retail Federation survey indicates that 6 in 10 consumers will engage in self-gifting during the 2014 winter holidays, the same proportion of self-gifters as in 2012.

Shoppers say they will spend an average of $126.88 on themselves this year, down from an estimated $134.77 during the 2013 winter holidays. Perhaps the decline comes as a result of consumers realizing they should be more focused on others rather than themselves during the holidays. Then again, maybe the shift is due to shoppers being more likely to self-gift year-round and having less reason to splurge on themselves specifically during the peak November-December season. In any event, it hardly seems urgent that a nation with a majority of self-gifters needs an individual day specifically focused on self-gifting.

TIME Retail

How China’s ‘Singles’ Day’ Notched $9 Billion in Sales on Alibaba

China-Based Internet Company Alibaba Debuts On New York Stock Exchange
Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma (L) attends the company's initial price offering (IPO) at the New York Stock Exchange on September 19, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

China's anti-Valentine's Day is the world's biggest day for online shopping

There are too many men in China.

That’s not the complaint of a love hungry young Chinese bachelor, but rather a statistical fact: by the year 2020, approximately 30 million more men will reach adulthood and enter the mating market than women. That may not make Chinese men happy, but it’s become a huge annual boost to China’s online retailers. How? Back in the early 1990s, Chinese singles created a sort of anti-Valentine’s Day called Singles’ Day, an annual celebration of bachelorhood or bachelorettehood taking place on November 11. (numerically, 11/11, the date of lonely “1s.”)

Singles’ Day has since evolved into a major shopping holiday, similar to Black Friday or Cyber Monday here in the U.S. And just as U.S. corporations like Hallmark adopted Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to boost sales, Chinese online retailers like Alibaba, a massive online marketplace, have embraced the cultural phenomenon that is Singles’ Day.

And that embrace comes with good reason. China’s Alibaba online marketplace alone reported over $9 billion in sales on Tuesday, skyrocketing past the company’s previous Singles’ Day record of about $5.9 billion, MarketWatch reports. Those are stunning numbers — by comparison, U.S. consumers spent just $1.2 billion online during Black Friday last year, according to ComScore, and another $2.29 billion during Cyber Monday, per Adobe Systems. (Factoring in physical store sales, total Black Friday weekend spending in the U.S. last year was a hair over $57 billion.) Those numbers come just two months after Alibaba went public in a $25 billion U.S.-based public offering, which has since hit the record books as the world’s biggest-ever IPO.

Singles’ Day is a holiday that speaks to the rapidly growing purchasing power of China’s middle class as well as a culture increasingly focused on the acquisition of material wealth. Accordingly, Singles’ Day has spawned a bevy of outlandish tales that redefine consumerism — one Chinese man, in preparation for Singles’ Day, proposed to his girlfriend in a heart-shaped ring of 99 iPhone 6s that cost about $82,000, reports the Nanfang. The woman rejected his proposal.

But the Singles’ Day windfall for Chinese retailers like Alibaba is also an accident of China’s one-child policy, instituted in 1979. The policy led many Chinese—who historically have often preferred to have boys—to take advantage of cheap ultrasound technology that has allowed women to determine the sex of their child in early pregnancy, offering them the option to continue or terminate pregnancies based on gender. The resulting gender imbalance has actually led many of China’s surplus men (and some women as well) to view Singles’ Day as a chance to celebrate what they hope could be the last day of singledom—hence much of the expensive buying, which is tied to gift-giving to woo significant others.

Alibaba, which acts as a bazaar for online merchants, has taken advantage to a remarkable extent of growing disposable incomes in China. This year, the company posted the largest initial public offering at $25 billion, launching off its rapid growth in China.

TIME Retail

China Gears Up for World’s Biggest Shopping Day

An employee works at an Alibaba Group warehouse on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
An employee works at an Alibaba Group warehouse on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China on Oct. 30, 2014. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Singles' Day is on Tuesday

China’s e-commerce firms are getting ready for the country’s biggest online shopping day Tuesday by hiring temporary staff and renting more warehouse space to deal with high volumes of orders.

The day known as Singles’ Day saw more than twice as much merchandise sold than on Cyber Monday in the U.S. last year. Singles’ Day—so called because the date 11/11 uses four “1”s to represent single people—began in 1993 at Nanjing University as a celebration of being single but gradually became a day when singles and couples alike could buy things for themselves.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba began to capitalize on the shopping fervor five years ago, offering staggering discounts to entice more customers. Last year Alibaba said it processed 254 million orders on the day worth $5.8 billion, The Financial Times reports.

After posting its $25 billion record-breaking IPO back in September, this year Alibaba aims to boost Singles’ Day sales by partnering with global brands and turning Singles Day into a worldwide event. This year is expected to be even bigger thanks to a 20%-increase in the total number of shoppers online, according to Boston Consulting Group.

[The Financial Times]

TIME stocks

Alibaba’s First Public Earnings Reveal Major Revenue Growth

China-Based Internet Company Alibaba Debuts On New York Stock Exchange
Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma poses for a photo outside the New York Stock Exchange prior to the company's initial price offering (IPO) on Sept. 19, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Results beat analysts’ expectations as shopping traffic in China picked up and more advertisers flocked to the company’s sites

Alibaba Group Holding reported its first quarterly earnings Tuesday after going public with a record-breaking $25 billion offering in September.

What you need to know: Alibaba’s profit beat analysts’ expectations as shopping traffic in China picked up and more advertisers flocked to the company’s sites. Annual active buyers were up 52% year-over-year, which helped boost gross merchandise volume through Alibaba’s sites.

Alibaba makes money by acting as a middleman for online transactions. The company takes a commission on each purchase, which means Alibaba’s revenues are a percentage of the overall sales, or what the company refers to as gross merchandise volume, or GMV. Revenue for the quarter surpassed analysts’ estimates and was up almost 54% year-over-year.

The big number: Profit, excluding one-time items, reached 2.79 yuan per share, or 46 cents, surpassing analysts’ estimates of 2.74 yuan, or 45 cents, according to Bloomberg data. Revenue also beat expectations, coming in at 16.8 billion yuan, or $2.7 billion, compared with an estimated 16 billion yuan, or $2.62 billion.

What else you need to know: Alibaba has been luring more vendors to its Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com website by promoting its advertising tools and cloud-computing services that delve into shoppers preferences. By offering a greater variety of vendor options, Alibaba is hoping to continue adding to the bottom line by growing GMV. The e-retailer is adding to its stable to become the dominant player in the $450 billion Chinese market.

Chairman and founder Jack Ma has been on the hunt for ways to expand Alibaba geographically as well as build out the scope of its offerings. Ma has been in Hollywood meeting with movie studios about potential content deals to add to its media offerings, especially as more Chinese youth stream shows from TV set-tops and their mobile devices. More than 217 million monthly active users accessed Alibaba’s mobile commerce apps in September alone.

Ma is also looking to work with Apple to build out a mobile payments system, and more initiatives may be ahead. Alibaba is “encouraged by continued improvement of mobile monetization which demonstrates the strong commercial intent of our users,” said CEO Jonathan Lu.

Beyond those offerings, the group is also making headway globally in its core online shopping business. Its AliExpress marketplace, founded in 2010, serves customers outside of China and has already become the lead online shopping destination in Russia and Brazil. Alibaba is on the hunt for deals that could help broaden its reach in Africa, Southeast Asia, the U.S. and Europe.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com


MONEY stocks

If This Is the Start of a Bear Market, Blame Alibaba

There's a possibility that the recent selloff morphs into a real downturn — and Alibaba's gaudy IPO may have marked the market's top.

It’s impossible to say if the recent plunge in the market is the start of a full-on downturn, or if it’s just a bout of short-term angst.

But if this does turn out to be an an official bear market, defined as a sustained drop of 20% or more, you can blame the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and its celebrated initial public offering on Sept. 19.

That’s what famed bond fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach told CNBC earlier this week. Indeed, since Alibaba went public about a month ago, the broad market has lost almost all of its gains since the start of the year. And Alibaba itself has lost nearly 10% of its value.

BABA Chart

BABA data by YCharts

But it’s also what history says.

Bull markets are born at a time of fear, but as they mature, greed sets in. And at the top of the market, investors try to get their mitts on one last pot of gold.

That’s why many of history’s biggest downturns coincided with celebrated IPOs that exemplified the themes of the prior bull market.

You’ll recall, for instance, that in the summer of 2007, just as the financial crisis was getting going — and just months before the start of the 2007-2009 bear market — the private equity and financial services firm Blackstone Group went public … and proceeded to get hammered.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

And before that, in April 2000, AT&T Wireless went public just days after the market peaked on March 24, 2000.

In Alibaba’s case, the company exemplified the hot themes that had been driving the five-and-a-half-year-old bull market. That is, exposure to technology, mobile, social media, and China.

But all of that may prove to have been too much of a good thing.


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