Data Sheet—Why Alibaba’s Hong Kong IPO May Signal a Chinese Retreat From Wall Street

China-Based Internet Company Alibaba Debuts On New York Stock Exchange
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: Glenn Carell (R), a trader with Barclays, explains the workings of deciding an initial price offering (IPO) to Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, during the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange on September 19, 2014 in New York City. The New York Times reported yesterday that Alibaba had raised $21.8 Billion in their initial public offering so far. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

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Clay Chandler here, filling in for Adam from rainy Hong Kong where everybody is buzzing about Alibaba.

As we briefly mentioned on Tuesday, the Chinese tech behemoth is mulling a secondary listing on the Hong Kong exchange to raise $20 billion later this year. The company isn’t commenting.

But in this city, where finance floats nearly everyone’s boat in one way or another, a deal that rich would be cause for jubilation—and a huge coup for Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing (HKEC), which operates this city’s bourse. In 2014, when Alibaba first sought to go public, Jack Ma and other founders snubbed Hong Kong because HKEC refused to allow dual-class shares granting different voting rights for different stocks. Alibaba listed instead on the New York Stock Exchange, where it raised a record $25 billion. (HKEC has since dropped the dual-class ban.)

And yet Alibaba’s return to Hong Kong also reflects the tempestuous state of U.S.-China relations. As we noted in Data Sheet last week, the escalating trade war between the two nations is morphing into a tech war. Word of Alibaba’s Hong Kong IPO—which comes days after a move by the Trump administration to forbid American firms from selling technology to Huawei Technology—has inspired a new fear: that tensions are spreading to capital markets, too.

The Financial Times warns that Alibaba, after setting the record for world’s richest IPO, “is about to set a new standard for a politically motivated one.” Bloomberg analysts Tim Culpan and Nisha Gopalan argue “politics may be the most obvious consideration” influencing Alibaba’s decision to list in Hong Kong. “By coming closer to home, Alibaba shows Beijing where its loyalties lie; and authorities can revel in what they see as an example of China’s growing power.” (They also speculate, though, that Alibaba will be able to put the money to good use.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that trade hawks are urging Trump to “curb China’s access to Wall Street” to force Beijing back to the negotiating table.

Alibaba’s New York debut was hailed by many as a milestone in the integration of the U.S. and Chinese economies. In the years that followed, scores of Chinese companies emulated Alibaba’s example, bypassing Hong Kong to raise hundreds of billions of dollars on American exchanges. If Alibaba does float shares in Hong Kong later this year, its IPO could mark the beginning of a Chinese retreat from The Street.


Block that kick. Speaking of China, Huawei moved to accelerate its lawsuit in the United States seeking to lift the Trump administration's restrictions on its business dealings. The company filed a motion for summary judgement on Tuesday in the case it originally filed in federal court in Plano, Texas, in March.

Power move. Fresh off the divorce that made her one of the world's richest people on her own, MacKenzie Bezos pledged to give away at least half of her wealth in her lifetime. Her husband Jeff Bezos has notably not signed the Giving Pledge, created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett almost a decade ago. “In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share," MacKenzie Bezos wrote, announcing her intention.

The old Statue of Liberty play. Lagging some of its rivals, T-Mobile has yet to open its 5G wireless network to customers. But a researcher with an unlocked Verizon 5G phone was able to get onto T-Mobile's upcoming 5G service in Manhattan and reach download speeds of almost 500 Megabits per second. Not bad. Speaking of 5G, after Intel killed its 5G modem chip effort, it seemed Qualcomm might have the market to itself. Not so fast. Smaller competitor MediaTek says it will have a 5G chipset for smartphones in 2020.

Bootleg left. Canada hosted a hearing for lawmakers from around the world who have organized to address the challenges of big tech companies in a group effort dubbed the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Facebook, Google and Twitter's top execs were invited to appear but did not, sending midlevel lobbyists instead. “I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes from Facebook and avoidance tactics about answering questions,” Jo Stevens, a Labor Party MP from the British Parliament, complained.

Sacked. Speaking of Facebook, adults in the United States spent an average of 38 minutes a day with the social media giant last year, down from 41 minutes in 2017, according to a report by eMarketer. Average daily usage of Snapchat was unchanged at 26 minutes, while Twitter users added 1 minute to increase their average to 26 minutes spent perusing the feed.


Have a knotty problem in almost any field? Let's see if the latest artificial intelligence techniques can help. Up next: crowded airwaves from too many Wi-Fi and cellular base stations. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, set out to challenge A.I. researchers to find better ways to manage spectrum dynamically in real time. And it put up prize money for the solutions. Eight teams could win $750,000 each if they could show that their A.I. apps managed spectrum more efficiently than just having dedicated channels for each user. Paul Tilghman, the DARPA program manager who oversaw the challenge, writes about what happened next in IEEE Spectrum:

When SC2 started, we suspected that many teams would take the simple approach of employing a “sense and avoid” strategy. This is what a Bluetooth device does when it discovers that the spectrum it wants is being used by a Wi-Fi router: It jumps to a new frequency. But Bluetooth’s frequency hopping works, in part, because Wi-Fi acts in a predictable way (that is, it broadcasts on a specific frequency and won’t change that behavior). However, in our competition, each team’s radios behave very differently and not at all predictably, making a sense-and-avoid strategy, well, senseless.

Instead, we’re seeing that a better approach is to predict what the spectrum will look like in the future. Then, a radio could use those predictions to decide which frequencies might open up—even if only for a moment or two, just enough to push through even a small amount of data. More precise predictions will allow collaborating radios to capitalize on every opportunity to transmit more data, without interfering by grabbing for the same frequency at the same time.


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Flying anywhere this summer? Bloomberg is predicting "a summer from hell" for U.S. airports. The problem is a combination of the loss of capacity from the still-grounded Boeing 737 Max, a record number of expected travelers, and a possible shift of hundreds of TSA airport security personnel to the southern border. Maybe it's a good year to take a road trip for summer vacation.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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