24 October 2016
Seasoned smartphone maker Coolpad faces fierce competition and could be forced to raise money yet again later this year. Photo: internet
Seasoned smartphone maker Coolpad faces fierce competition and could be forced to raise money yet again later this year. Photo: internet

Coolpad sends out distress signal with plan for rights issue

It seems like US$700 million and two major new alliances weren’t enough to prop up Coolpad Group Ltd. (002369.HK).

The financially challenged smartphone maker has just announced a new share rights offering to raise up to HK$736 million (US$95 million).

The deal is the latest distress signal coming from China’s overheated smartphone sector, in which Coolpad and a vibrant field of other domestic brands have engaged in a fierce price war over the past two years.

What’s somewhat revealing about this new capital raising plan is its relatively paltry size, and also the large discount Coolpad had to offer to sell the new shares.

Even worse, one of the main buyers of the new shares is Chinese online video giant Leshi Internet Information & Technology (LeTV, 300104.CH), which should have been willing to pay closer to market levels for the new shares after becoming one of Coolpad’s largest stakeholders last year.

That kind of no-confidence vote by one of your biggest stakeholders certainly isn’t a good sign, and minority shareholders took note by dumping Coolpad shares in Hong Kong.

The stock now trades at a two-year low, extending a sell-off in which the shares have tumbled 28 percent since the start of the year. And the stock could fall further still, since the price of the rights offering is still a bit below current trading levels.

Under its newly announced plan, Coolpad will issue between 653 million and 669 million rights shares, carrying a price of HK$1.10 per share.

That compares with a Coolpad closing price of HK$1.29 the day before the announcement and HK$1.55 at the start of this year.

The rights issue will allow Coolpad to raise between HK$719 million and $736 million and will boost its current share count by 15 percent.

LeTV and Data Dreamland Holding Ltd., Coolpad’s two largest shareholders, will be the two largest buyers of the new stock, along with two individuals with connections to the company.

This particular fundraising comes within a year of two other major cash-raising exercises by Coolpad, even as the company says it’s still operating profitably.

The first of those came about a year ago, when Coolpad got US$420 million after forming a smartphone-making joint venture with security software specialist Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd. (QIHU.US).

Later in the year, it raised more money when controlling Coolpad shareholder Data Dreamland sold 18 percent of its stake to LeTV for US$280 million.

In both instances, Qihoo and LeTV wanted to launch their own smartphone brands and saw Coolpad as a good manufacturing partner.

Qihoo was the first to form a tie-up but wasn’t too happy when Coolpad signed its deal with LeTV later in the year, and threatened to end its joint venture.

The two sides eventually reached a settlement, and I suspect that deal cost Coolpad both in terms of money and also in production assets it lost as Qihoo took control of the joint venture.

Coolpad has yet to release its annual earnings for 2015, but it admitted in its interim report that operating profit fell in the first half of last year compared with the same period in 2014.

It didn’t provide an actual figure, but I suspect it was close to a breakeven scenario at best, and quite possibly the firm was even losing money from its core operations.

Last year’s big cash infusions may have helped it to report an overall net profit for all of last year, but this latest rights issue probably tells a more accurate story of what’s happening behind the scenes.

That story is that competition in China’s smartphone market may be intensifying, as sales in the broader marketplace start to slow and even contract after several years of breakneck growth.

The signs of strain have shown up in the broader industry supply chain, with growing reports of component makers and contract manufacturers closing shop and declaring bankruptcy.

Coolpad is one of China’s older and better known domestic smartphone brands, and its relative wealth of experience was a major factor attracting Qihoo and later LeTV.

But its already strained resources were probably further strained by the Qihoo joint venture settlement, and its loss of manufacturing assets in that settlement is probably what’s driving this latest capital-raising exercise.

LeTV looks quite opportunistic in this latest fundraising, since it will increase its stake in Coolpad at a big discount.

What’s more, the new funds will probably be used to buy new equipment to manufacture LeTV’s own line of smartphones, which it launched a year ago.

But LeTV is also taking a relatively big risk, since it’s quite likely that Coolpad’s shares will continue to sink.

And if Coolpad hits a cash crunch later this year, which looks like a strong possibility, it’s also quite possible that LeTV may have to provide even more funds.

Bottom line: Coolpad’s shares are likely to come under pressure for the rest of 2016 owing to stiff competition in China’s smartphone market, and it could be forced to raise more money later this year after its newly announced rights issue plan.

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A commentator on China company news and associate professor in the journalism department of Fudan University in Shanghai. Follow him on his blog at

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