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News from China
Yahoo’s crisis of identity leads to end of era
27th July 2016

 WHEN senior Yahoo executives gathered at a San Jose hotel for a management retreat in the spring of 2006, there was no outward sign of a company in crisis.

The Internet pioneer, not yet a teenager, had just finished the prior year with US$1.9 billion in profits on US$5.3 billion in revenue. The tough days of the dot-com bust were a distant memory, and Yahoo Inc, flush with lucrative advertising deals from the world’s biggest brands, was enjoying its run as one of the top dogs in the world’s hottest industry.

But for one retreat exercise, everyone was asked to say what word came to mind when a company name was mentioned. They went through the list: eBay: auctions. Google: search. Intel: microprocessors. Microsoft: Windows.

Then they were asked to write down their answer for Yahoo.

“It was all over the map,” recalled Brad Garlinghouse, then a Yahoo senior vice president and now COO of payment settlement startup Ripple Labs. “Some people said mail. Some people said news. Some people said search.”

While some executives said this was a useful management exercise that took place multiple times over the years, it proved an ominous portent of the business troubles to come.

Indeed, the demise of Yahoo, which culminated in an agreement this week to sell the company’s core assets to Verizon Communications Inc, has been more than a decade in the making. Many of the more than two dozen former Yahoo managers interviewed by Reuters over the past two weeks — who now occupy executives suites elsewhere in Silicon Valley — agree that the company’s downfall can be traced to choices made by both the executive leadership and the board of directors during the company’s heyday in the mid-2000s.

Some of the missed opportunities are obvious: a failed bid to buy Facebook Inc for US$1 billion in 2006. A 2002 dalliance with Google similarly came to naught. A chance to acquire YouTube came and went. Skype was snapped up by eBay Inc. And Microsoft Corp’s nearly US$45 billion takeover bid for all of Yahoo in 2008 was blocked by Yahoo’s leadership.

Just as damaging as the missed deals, though, was a company culture that ultimately became too bureaucratic and too focused on traditional brand advertising to prosper in a fast moving tech business, according to some of the former Yahoo managers Reuters spoke with.

“It became very difficult to get both investment and alignment” around new product initiatives, said Greg Cohn, a former senior product director at Yahoo and now CEO of the mobile phone app company Burner. “If you built a new product and the home page didn’t want to feature it, you were hosed.”

Path to growth

Worst of all, once Alphabet Inc’s Google had displaced it as peoples’ first stop for finding something on the Internet, Yahoo was never able to decide on exactly what it wanted to be.

Yahoo today has more than 1 billion users and has focused on mobile under Chief Executive Marissa Mayer, who said in an interview on Monday that she still saw a “path to growth” for Yahoo, which the Verizon merger accelerated.

Yahoo will continue to operate as a holding company for its large stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, which are worth far more than the core business.

Yahoo declined to comment for this story.

The appointment of Terry Semel, who had completed a highly successful run as chairman of the Warner Bros movie studio, as CEO in 2001 seemed to answer a question that bedeviled many early Internet firms: was it a tech company, or a media company?

Semel could not be reached for comment on his Yahoo tenure. But the focus on media proved lucrative in the short term as big advertisers, desperate to get on board with the next big thing, flocked to one of the largest properties on the web. Revenue soared from US$717 million in 2001 to nearly US$7 billion by 2007.

Indeed, Semel and the media executives he brought in by all accounts turned a scrappy young Internet startup into a highly profitable company that brought old-line advertising to a new medium.

“From our perspective, we were a media company,” said Dan Rosensweig, Yahoo’s COO from 2002 to 2007 and now CEO of online education company Chegg Inc. “It didn’t feel at the time that there was a strong likelihood we would beat Google at search ... Nobody could argue that we weren’t the largest front page on the Internet.”

Yahoo placed its signature purple everywhere then — on cookies and cupcakes, on the carpets, and even in the martinis.

“When Coca-Cola came to campus, we rolled out the purple carpet,” recalled Wenda Harris Millard, Yahoo’s chief sales officer from 2001 to 2007 and now president and COO of business development firm MediaLink.

Millard said all the major advertisers, from Coke to General Motors, wanted to come to Yahoo’s campus at least once a year.

“We were just doing gazillions of dollars with them,” said Millard.

But the excitement, and the revenue, associated with the big advertising deals 10 years ago turned out to be a trap in many ways. Like its brethren in the print media business, who continued to rely on selling ad pages long after it was clear that it was a dying business, Yahoo couldn’t help but to focus on where the big money was, even though that wasn’t where the future was.

“The worst consequence of trying to be a media company was that they didn’t take programing seriously enough,” wrote Paul Graham, co-founder of the Y-Combinator tech incubator who sold a startup to Yahoo, in a 2010 blog post about the company’s woes. “Microsoft (back in the day), Google, and Facebook have all had hacker-centric cultures. But Yahoo treated programming as a commodity.”

The downside of the media orientation became more clear as the 2000s wore on. In 2003, Yahoo acquired Overture, the company that essentially invented the ad-search technology that made Google rich. But Yahoo never succeeded in creating a strong competitor to Google’s AdWords and AdSense systems.

A subsequent, hugely expensive effort to rebuild its search and advertising technology, dubbed Panama, similarly bore little fruit.

Meanwhile, market-leading products like Yahoo Mail, and early social media efforts like Yahoo Groups, were neglected as managers wrestled over which products would get priority on the hugely valuable Yahoo home page, according to three former executives. Promising acquisitions, including photo-sharing site Flickr and social bookmarking service Delicious, withered on the vine.

Former staffers say they were consumed with endless internal meetings and shifting priorities. Former senior product director Cohn recalls how efforts to make Yahoo an open platform — with nifty third-party applications around specific content areas such as travel — foundered in the face of opposition from managers in charge of Yahoo’s in-house products.

Too often, the end result was money spread too thinly across too many marginal initiatives, as Garlinghouse pointed out in a leaked internal document known as the Peanut Butter Manifesto.

By 2007, Yahoo was losing ground fast on the product side as Google solidified its hold on search. New players like Facebook and Netflix Inc continued to arrive and steal Yahoo’s thunder.

Source: Shanghai Daily, July 27, 2016
Tianjin FTZ may take in zone in Hebei
26th July 2016

 A pilot economic zone in the northern coastal city of Tianjin could expand to include another industrial zone in neighboring Hebei Province, part of a wider program to drive economic integration around the capital Beijing.

The China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone was established in 2015, along with two others in the southeastern province of Fujian and southern province of Guangdong, to test measures including speedier custom clearance, less control on cross-border capital flow and broadened access for foreign investment in China’s service sector.

Currently, three areas in Tianjin make up the Tianjin FTZ, but as authorities aim to drive administrative and economic integration among Tianjin, Hebei and Beijing, the governments in Tianjin and Hebei are applying to include Hebei’s Caofeidian District into the pilot zone.

Adding a new area outside Tianjin would enable measures to benefit more places surrounding Beijing. The inclusion plan is pending approval from the State Council.

Source: Shanghai Daily, July 25, 2016
G20 vows to lift growth despite fears over Brexit
25th July 2016

 THE world’s biggest economies will work to support global growth and better share the benefits of trade, policymakers said yesterday after a meeting in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu that was dominated by the impact of Britain’s exit from Europe and fears of rising protectionism.

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union heightens risks for the world economy, finance chiefs from the Group of 20 leading countries said.

The outcome of June’s referendum “adds to the uncertainty in the global economy,” they said in a communique at the end of two-day meeting of central bankers and government officials in Chengdu.

But they insisted in the communique that G20 countries were “well positioned to proactively address the potential economic and financial consequences” of the vote, adding: “In the future, we hope to see the UK as a close partner of the EU.”

Britain’s new Finance Minister Philip Hammond said the uncertainty about Brexit would begin to abate once Britain laid out a vision for a future relationship with Europe, which could become clearer later this year.

But there could be volatility in financial markets throughout the negotiations in the years ahead, Hammond said.

The communique said Brexit had added to uncertainty in the global economy where growth was “weaker than desirable.” Members, however, were “well positioned to proactively address the potential economic and financial consequences,” it said.

“In light of recent developments, we reiterate our determination to use all policy tools — monetary, fiscal and structural — individually and collectively to achieve our goal of strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.”

The G20 would strengthen the coordination on a stable foreign exchange market, including refraining from competitive devaluations, it said.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew stressed to his European and British counterparts “the need for negotiations to take place in a smooth, pragmatic and transparent manner.”

“A highly integrated relationship between the UK and the EU is in the best interests of Europe, the United States and the global economy,” he told reporters after the meeting.

On Friday, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde called for quick action to end such uncertainty brought by the British-EU split. She said that turmoil prompted the IMF to cut its forecast of this year’s global growth by 0.1 percentage points.

China’s Minister of Finance Lou Jiwei said every member was putting “pressure on themselves to structure reform due to their responsibilities towards a sustainable economic growth.”

The G20 statement yesterday also cited the importance of reducing excess production capacity in steel and other industries that has led to an overcapacity. That has been a source of tension between China and trading partners who have accused China of exporting steel at low prices.

The communique cited “geopolitical conflicts, terrorism, and refugees” as further sources of economic uncertainty.

Source: Shanghai Daily, July 25, 2016
Pressure on capital outflows dips
22nd July 2016

 PRESSURE on China’s cross-border capital outflows eased during the first half of 2016, new data showed yesterday.

Chinese banks saw a deficit of US$49 billion in foreign exchange sales and purchases in the second quarter, down from US$124.8 billion in the first, according to figures released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

This is attributable to the stable macro-economic environment and subdued yuan depreciation expectations, SAFE spokeswoman Wang Chunying said at a news conference.

The narrowed forex sales/purchase deficit reflected an easing of pressure on cross-border capital withdrawal.

“Market sentiment has become more rational. Both Chinese companies and individuals are less willing to acquire foreign exchange,” Wang noted.

But she said cross-border capital movements will remain “basically stable,” due to China’s relatively fast economic growth, sound financial system, good fiscal balance, continuous current account surpluses and ample forex reserves.

China’s economy grew 6.7 percent year on year in the second quarter, flat from the previous quarter and a better reading than many had feared.

Exports and industrial profits have returned to growth, with manufacturing activity picking up and fixed-asset investment accelerating.

The ratio between China’s current account surplus and GDP was 1.6 percent in the first quarter, sharply down from a historic high of 10 percent and staying at an internationally recognized reasonable level.

China has the world’s largest forex reserves of US$3.21 trillion at the end of June, up US$13.4 billion from the end of May.

“Adequate forex reserves provide China with a solid foundation to withstand external shocks,” Wang said.

She denied that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union had any major impact on China’s cross-border capital movement.

But Wang said China will boost monitoring and improve its policies to prevent any risks arising from cross-border capital movement.

Source: Shanghai Daily, July 22, 2016

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