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Tough times ahead for China Mobile: I

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Sunmmary: the issue of 3G license (news here), the immature domestic standard being assigned to CHL, and no cool handset. All the above combined with the slowdown of Chinese economy is creating a headwind for China Mobile near term growth.

China Telecom (NYSE:CHA, the landline operator recently acquired CDMA business from China Unicom) is ramping up the new CDMA + WiFi strategy, the sky wing (tian yi) plan (English:labbrand; Chinese: Hu Langlang Sina blog); I also saw the sking wing 189 promotion when I was in China. Service wise, CHA is giving the customers both broadband internet and mobile service in one package. The price is quite competitive.

China Telecom CHA sky wing esurf

To be fair, China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) is not standing still, it’s launching the 188 number with TDMA very soon. But I am seeing at least two problems: 1) Lack of WOW handset (e.g., iPhone) to attract Chinese consumers (Chinese: asun0104 blog); 2) The lag of TDMA compared to mature 3G standard WCDMA. More importantly, the existing GSM business will slowdown quite a bit as the Chinese economy in the coastal areas cools, due to slowdown in exports. As many migrant workers go back home (factories shut), there are less need for them to talk/text to family back home. Similar thing can be said to business communications.

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China Mobile Group got robbed

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According to Chinese news, China Mobile’s ultimate parent, the China State Asset Management Co. (CSAM), took 50 billion Chinese Yuan (about 7.30 billion USD) from China Mobile Group (the parent of China Mobile Limited, NYSE: CHL; HKSE:0941), and gave it to China Telecom. For CSAM, this is merely put money from left pocket to right pocket, because both China Mobile and China Telecom are majority owned by CSAM. But for CHL shareholder like me, this is merely another highway robbery, orchestrated in the name of “balance of power in China telecom industry”.

China Mobile Limited CHL

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China Telecom Revamp

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Players: foreign investment bankers, Chinese goverment

The motivation of Foreign investment bankers: pump and dump, make money from the warrants (options) in Hongkong market.

Chinese goverment
Goverment usually does not know economy or business, just look at Bush admin you will know. In China goverment plays two roles in telecom revamp: as regulator and as majority owner. This makes the matter more complicated, and it seems to me goverment revamp effort is half-baked, also widely expected. It did not give big surprise to the market and the consumers.

Effectiveness of Chinese goverment policy in the past: telecom revamp in the past; regulatory effort on real estate (so far so failed). Of course we can not read the history book and do the investing. Otherwise all the greater investors will be history major.

Note: I wrote the above a while ago right after China offically started telecom re-org (May 23). I did write about the telecom re-org shortly after May 23, here are some.

New developments

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Second thought on China Mobile CHL

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(Update May 26 11:35PM) Just found the Google finance has the wrong EPS and PE ((EPS 2.62, PE 29.92) for CHL. Yahoo finance has the right number for CHL: ttm EPS $3.08, PE 25.44 as of Friday May 23.

Market sentiment
GS downgrade (Bloomberg): the ladies at Goldman Sachs cut the rating of 0941 (China Mobile H share) from neutral to sell, and cut price target from 135 HKD to 105 HKD. I don’t trust Goldman rating blindly (no disrespect to people at GS), this downgrade combined with the share drop both in NYSE and Hongkong, signals the big boys are leaving the table. I don’t want to stick my head out at this time, so I am going to sell 2/3 of my CHL shares tomorrow morning (Tuesday May 27).

China telecom re-org pic
(Source: XinHuaNet)

More background of the re-org, 3G license

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Is China Mobile CHL still a buy?

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The re-org of China telecom/wireless industry started officially, with the China Mobile Group acqusision of China Railway Telecom (Teitong), a small fixed line operator. The news drove down the stock price of China Mobile (0941.HK, NYSE:CHL) sharply lower today. Many pundits, speculators and short term investors are worrying the golden (monopoly) days of China Mobile will be over soon.

Not quite. I think about this question hard: will China Mobile lose its competetive edge in the Chinese wireless arena, with the widely expected next steps of re-org? In the re-org China Unicom will sell CDMA networks to China Telecom, and combines with China Netcom, the smaller fixed line operator with a footprint in North China; China Telecom will enter into wireless business with the Unicom CDMA acqusition.

China Mobile pic
(China Mobile restoring wireless service in Sichuan earthquake region, more pics here)

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China Mobile, Syngenta update

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In last two days China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) and Syngenta (NYSE:SYT) released its Q1 results (Bloomberg: CHL result, SYT result). Both are doing very well lately. Today CHL got an upgrade from Zacks. But let’s not got too excited on the stocks, as a general rule. Also keep in mind sometimes we could use the analyst upgrade or downgrade as an opposite indicator (market sentiment).

Remember a company’s fundamental does not change before and after an analyst wrote a report.

China Mobile’s strength or new growth mainly comes from the rural areas, and data/internet plan in urban areas. While I apploud its management’s forward looking strategy, I am not sure how long this momentum can sustain. Note CHL trades at a much higher price compared to other mobile operators, and it is the No. 1 carrier in the world according to market cap. Here is another interesting Chinese article about China Mobile (from Caijing).

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Why China Mobile CHL is a buy: IV

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Two important news about China wireless arena yesterday.

1) China Mobile finally started the long awaited trial of TD-SCDMA 3G network (read Chinese news story 1 , and 2 from XinhuaNet). Some features of 3G include the video conference/phone, TV program, etc.

2) The new (lower) roaming fees takes effect.

I think 2) may have slightly negative effect on CHL’s earning, while 1) is insignificant and we will not know the success of 3G/TD until 2009/10.

China Mobile 3G TD-SCDMA trial
(Picture from XinhuaNet: people are lining up for 3G phones)


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Why China Mobile CHL is a buy: III

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There were some big news in the US wireless arena last week. Verizon and AT&T won the auction of some new wireless spectrum, Google did not win the spectrum (see the details at NYTimes). Do you know how much Verizon paid for the new spectrum? $9.6 billion. Imagine a similar scenario in China, how much does the 3G license cost in China? As far as China Mobile (and China Unicom and Telecom) is concerned, it’s null, zero, no cost.

What? You must think this is crazy. How come the goverment gives away the license for free? Well, the No. 1 reason is the goverment is the biggest shareholder of all those big wireless/telecom companies. If they charge a big fee, essentially they are putting money from left pocket to right pocket. So why bother.

Moat analysis
What does CHL got?

Wang Jian Zhou pic
(CEO Wang Jian Zhou at annual report, from

1) A top 10 Chinese global brand, which consists of 3 sub brands: GoTone/quan qiu tong (white collars), shen zhou xing (everyone) and dong gan di dai (mobile internet), quote in Chinese:
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Why China Mobile CHL is a buy: II

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As you may aware, terrible things happened in Lasha (China) a few days ago. It is reported 5 young girls who worked for an apparel shop were killed in the riot (in this particular case, arson set by the thugs). I noticed the last text message one of the girl sent to her father is: Don’t worry about me, dad. 最后一条短信:”不要担心我”. I certainly wish things would turn out differently for the girls. But on the bright side, I think her family at least got some pieces of their girl’s last moment. This reminds me of a related event. On September 11, 2001, some people who buried under world trader center tried to call their family members, or text messaging, and some got saved that way. I’m sure you have heard similar stories about cell phone saving people’s lives too.

So what’s my point? We are increasingly living in a mobile world nowadays. From business point of view, the enablers of this technology can make a fair share of profit, while providing reliable service to the consumers (hopefully mostly for entertainment, not life or death situation).

China Mobile pic

Year 2007 result
China Mobile (CHL) released its year 2007 results on March 19 (PDF file here). Here are the highlights:
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Why I think China Mobile is a buy: I

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First a bit background.

Re-org of China telecom industry
All the big players: China Mobile 中国移动 (CHL), China Netcom (CN), China Telecom 中国电信(CHA) and China Unicom 中国联通 (CHU), are majority owned by the state. In the widely anticipated re-org plan, the goverment will try to create more competition in wireless arena (right now CHL is much bigger than CHU); and save the fixed line operators, as CHA and Netcom are losing landline subscription to mobile phones. China Unicom, currently the smaller rival of China Mobile, will sell its CDMA network to China Telecom, and meanwhile CHU (with its GSM network) will merge with China Netcom.

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