A fight brewing: Luckin targets Starbucks for China’s coffee crown

Luckin’s caffeine-fueled growth has come at the expense of profits. (Reuters)
Updated 04 January 2019

A fight brewing: Luckin targets Starbucks for China’s coffee crown

  • The firm has expanded at breakneck speed, propelled by a focus on technology, delivery, and heavy discounting, even at the cost of mounting losses

BEIJING: Chinese coffee startup Luckin is aiming to open 2,500 new stores this year and overtake Starbucks as the largest coffee chain by number of outlets in the world’s second-biggest economy, it said on Thursday.

The firm, which only officially launched its business at the start of last year, has expanded at breakneck speed, propelled by a focus on technology, delivery, and heavy discounting, even at the cost of mounting losses.

“What we want at the moment is scale and speed,” Yang Fei, Luckin’s chief marketing officer, told reporters on Thursday at a presentation in Beijing.

“There is no point talking about profit,” he said, adding that subsidies to lure more users would
be an important part of the firm’s strategy for the coming few years.

Luckin said that it was targeting a total of more than 4,500 stores by the end of 2019, which would take it past Seattle-based Starbucks, which has long dominated China’s coffee scene and has more than 3,600 stores in the country.

Luckin’s caffeine-fueled expansion is in stark contrast to Starbucks, which opened its first China store in 1999 and has spent two decades reaching its current store count.

The US chain, which spearheaded the growth of a coffee culture in China, started to see competition rise from smaller peers over the last 18 months, though Luckin has stood out as the most aggressive competitor.

But Luckin’s rise has not come cheaply. The company recorded a loss of more than 800 million yuan ($116.34 million) last year, which its chief marketing officer said was in line with expectations as it pushed to expand.

Luckin, backed by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and China International Capital Corp, opened more than 2,000 locations in the past year, gaining a valuation of $2.2 billion after raising $200 million in a funding round last month.

The firm’s CEO, Qian Zhiya, told Reuters last year that Luckin aimed to outnumber Starbucks
in China.

Reuters previously reported that Luckin was also in early-stage talks with investment banks about an overseas initial public offering.

The firm, however, declined to answer questions about IPO plans on Thursday. 


HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

Updated 27 October 2020

HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

  • HSBC has a further headache – geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West

HONG KONG: HSBC said Tuesday its third-quarter post-tax profits fell 46 percent on-year as the Asia-focused banking giant continued to take a hammering from the coronavirus pandemic and spiraling China-US tensions.
However, the profit falls were not as bad as some analysts had predicted and HSBC said it expected credit losses to be at the lower end of a previously announced $8 billion to $13 billion range.
The global economic slowdown caused by the virus has hit financial giants hard and there is limited optimism on the horizon as Europe and the United States head into the winter with infections soaring once more.
HSBC has a further headache — geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West.
As a result, the lender is in the midst of a worldwide overhaul, aiming to slash some 35,000 jobs by 2022, primarily in its less profitable European and American divisions.
“We are accelerating the transformation of the Group, moving our focus from interest-rate sensitive business lines toward fee-generating businesses, and further reducing our operating costs,” chief executive Noel Quinn said in a statement accompanying the results.
Reported post-tax profit for the third quarter came in at $2 billion with revenue down 11 percent at $11.9 billion, the statement said.
Adjusted pre-tax profit slid 21 percent to $4.3 billion in the period, beating a $2.8 billion estimate by Bloomberg analysts.
Quinn described the latest figures as “promising results against a backdrop of the continuing impacts of Covid-19 on the global economy” as well as low interest rates.
In the first six months of 2020, HSBC’s post-tax profits were down 69 percent, meaning the third-quarter results were something of an improvement as some major economies relaxed some of their coronavirus restrictions.
The bank said its board would consider whether to pay “a conservative dividend” for 2020 based on final end of year results and how the global economy looks in early 2021.
Earlier this year, UK regulators called on British banks to scrap dividends for the year to preserve capital during the pandemic crisis.
HSBC makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, with China and Hong Kong being the major drivers of growth.
As a result, it has found itself more vulnerable than most to the crossfire caused by the increasingly bellicose relationship between Beijing and Washington.
The bank has tried to stay in Beijing’s good graces.
It vocally backed a tough national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June to end a year of unrest and pro-democracy protests.
The move sparked criticism in Washington and London but analysts saw it as an attempt to protect its access to China, which has a track record of punishing businesses that do not toe Beijing’s line.
“Geopolitical risk, particularly relating to trade and other tensions between the US and China, remains heightened,” HSBC said in Tuesday’s profit statement.
The US has sanctioned nearly a dozen key Hong Kong and Chinese officials over the national security law, telling international banks to stop doing business with them.
China’s national security law, however, forbids businesses in Hong Kong from adhering to foreign sanctions regimes, leaving many in an unclear regulatory tight spot.
“Investor and business sentiment in some sectors in Hong Kong remains dampened and ongoing tensions could result in an increasingly fragmented trade and regulatory environment,” HSBC said in its statement.
The bank also highlighted the uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union as another potential headwind.
Talks for a post-Brexit trade deal have made little headway with a 31 December deadline fast approaching.
“There is a risk of additional ECL (expected credit losses) charges, particularly in the UK in 4Q20, if the UK and the EU fail to reach a trade agreement,” the bank said.