China’s venture capital party may be about to get quieter.
This year, for the first time, Chinese start-ups raised more cash than their Silicon Valley counterparts, notching up $56 billion in six months. But the excitement may be cooling as the year ends, thanks to tougher regulation and a slowing economy. A shakeout could easily follow.
It has been a blowout 2018. For the first half of the year, a study released this week by the data provider Preqin and Insead business school suggests that China beat the $42 billion raised in the United States by some way. That’s largely thanks to a huge funding round for Alibaba’s financial affiliate, Ant Financial, as well as some other chunky efforts. But it’s a high-water mark regardless. As is, perhaps, SoftBank’s mooted move to place a team in China to help spend its giant Vision Fund, after years of investing remotely.
The coming months look less exuberant. The likes of SoftBank and Singapore’s Temasek still have plenty of money to plow into splashy names like the news and video-sharing app ByteDance. Others are less enthusiastic, if figures for China-focused venture funds are anything to go by. In the 11 months to mid-November, around 70 such funds raised just over $15 billion, Preqin estimates; that compares to $40 billion or so raised by 330 funds in all of 2016.
All of this suggests increased nerves. The vast majority of Chinese unicorns that listed this year, including the takeaways-to-taxis app Meituan Dianping and the smartphone-maker Xiaomi, are now underwater. Just a small fraction of those $1 billion-plus companies, including video-streaming companies Huya, Bilibili and iQiyi, have risen above their initial public offering prices. Rocky starts like that of the Alibaba-backed parenting site Babytree, which debuted last month at a valuation below its last funding round, won’t help.
What most of this year’s debutantes have in common is that they bet on local consumers, one way or another. But those shoppers look more fretful. Changes to rules on education, fintech and gaming have only added to the strain. Weaker companies may fall by the wayside.