Anxiety > excitement in Flipkart, Amazon’s festive sales 🛒

Why Flipkart and Amazon are one-upping each other with the dates of their annual sales

This is edition 378 of Beyond The First Order, a premium daily newsletter that demystifies the hidden models, incentives and consequences of the most significant events across India and Southeast Asia

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Good morning,

China’s and India’s commitments on moving away from coal hide as much as they reveal. A big event that’s supposed to be a reason to cheer for India’s e-commerce duopoly is anything but. And the SPAC carnival is still very much on in Asia. 

Flipkart and Amazon are afraid

The annual sale campaigns of e-commerce giants all over the world are staggering events. Planned over many months and orchestrated in extreme detail, they can drive mind boggling sales in a very short duration. 

Last year Alibaba, China’s e-commerce leader, drove US$74 billion in sales in a single day. In the US, Amazon drove US$10.4 billion in sales over two days.

Though the Indian market is much smaller than either China or the US, it still commands an outsized influence. Last October, Flipkart and Amazon—neck-and-neck leaders and rivals in e-commerce—earned an estimated US$3.5 billion in four days.

Sale days are make-or-break days. 

But something’s not adding up about the way these well-funded, powerful giants are behaving about their respective sale days. 

The original sale days were 7-12 October for Flipkart and a 30-day period starting 4 October for Amazon.

Over the weekend, Flipkart seems to have blinked and advanced its sale to precede Amazon’s.

The competition in the Indian e-commerce space is set to heat up further as Walmart-owned Flipkart is advancing its The Big Billion Days (TBBD) sale to start from October 3, a day before rival Amazon kicks off its festive sale.
On Tuesday, Flipkart had announced that the eighth edition of TBBD will be held from October 7-12 this year.
The Walmart-owned company is, however, now advancing the opening date to October 3 and the sale will now end on October 10, according to an internal memo.

Not to be outdone, Amazon then advanced its own sale by a day to coincide with Flipkart’s.

The only explanation for Flipkart and Amazon to be behaving in such an insecure manner is that they both view the market as both limited and zero-sum. Meaning, if a rival gets ahead by a day, it will mean fewer customers and revenue left on the table for itself.

If India’s biggest e-commerce companies are fighting like schoolkids over candy, we need to consider the fact that they both know—like fighting schoolkids—that there isn’t enough candy for both. That India’s market isn’t growing as it should have been.

My colleague Praveen Krishnan covered exactly this in a recent edition of The Nutgraf, his weekly newsletter. I quote from it in conclusion.

India’s current per capita GDP is a little over $2,000 right now. There’s a direct link between the per capita GDP and the number of active transacting customers online. And it’s not linear.
Take China for instance, which has a per capita GDP of around $10,000. That’s five times of India. Alibaba, their largest online horizontal commerce platform, has an active transacting customer base of 800 million users.
India has just a tenth of that, assuming the best case scenario.
And this was before the pandemic. We still don’t know the full impact of Covid, but it has almost certainly set us back by several years, with millions thrown back into poverty. China, on the other hand, has rushed ahead. Remember, any growth we may have seen in the GDP per capita has also almost certainly been inequitable—it’s gone to the rich people and less to the poor. This is likely why we probably haven’t moved much from the 70 million number.
All of this leads to a few implications.
Implication 1 : Horizontal players like Flipkart and Amazon are at the outer limits
Both of them have practically captured most of this pyramid, and are now in the business of trying to maximise repeat purchases or even a second purchase from a large part of the 70 million of this pyramid, and a first purchase from those outside it.
This does not mean that they won’t grow. They will. But it will be a long, hard, and expensive grind.

China, India’s sleight of hand on coal

China made a big splash in the fight against climate change last week. The world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases said it would stop financing coal-fired power projects abroad. 

It seems to be a big deal considering what’s at stake: US$50 billion in Chinese state funding for 44 projects, mostly in Asia and Africa. This could cut future carbon emissions by 200 million tonnes per year. 

But absolute data can often be misleading. That number, for instance, is just 0.6% of the global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020. 

There’s another reason why David Fickling, a Bloomberg columnist, calls China’s move a “fait accompli”: 

That's because the dwindling pool of countries still prepared to accept Chinese funds to build coal-fired power have been quietly quitting the field for some time, driven as much by the vanishing commercial appeal of solid fuel as by any climate commitments.
It’s a lot easier to announce the end of funding for a technology when there are no customers for it in the first place.

Fickling then turns to a matter more deserving of global attention: what China and India—the world’s top two coal consumers—are doing with the dirty fuel within their own borders. 

India’s state-owned NTPC, the country’s largest power producer, last year said it would not set up any new coal-fired projects. Debt-laden private players had already withdrawn from the space, and NTPC’s decision was a death knell for greenfield coal-based plants. 

But dig deeper and you’ll see that India’s not quite cutting its coal ties. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, there are 34 GW of coal-fired plants, or 15% of the current operational capacity, under construction. China is no different, with 97 GW of coal-based power projects being built, or 9% of its operational portfolio. India and China also have 163 GW and 21 GW, respectively, which have been announced or approved. 

Then there are the coal mines the two countries are building. India and China plan to add 404 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) and 543 mtpa, respectively, to their coal production. 

It’s another matter that the private sector has not been very receptive to India’s decision to end state-run Coal India’s monopoly in coal mining. Only 19 of the 67 coal mines put on the block received bids from private miners in an auction earlier this year. Only eight had more than one bid. This is worse than the first auction last year when only half the 38 mines on offer had at least two bids. 

The abysmal response could be partly chalked up to the pandemic and its impact on the economy, but private miners’ concerns around the long-term prospects for coal were ostensibly a factor, too. 

(In the chart below, the number of mines under construction is marked green and those in the pre-construction stage are marked blue.)

Directionally, India and China—both taking big leaps in clean energy—are clearly heading towards a future less dependent on coal. It’s just not as significant, at least not yet, as one would assume. 

The SPAC wave arrives in Asia

Never mind that the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) boom in the US is somewhat waning. In Southeast Asia, the SPAC wave has only just arrived.

On 2 September, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) released its framework for SPAC listings, the first bourse in Asia to do so.

It’s getting all the help it can get from the city-state. The government has roped in state-linked entities like Temasek Holdings, EDBI—the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB)—and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to ensure that this will be a successful venture. Early last week, SGX’s chief executive hinted that the first SPAC application would be filed in a few weeks’ time.

There’s a reason for SGX to move quickly. It wants to beat Hong Kong.

Two weeks after SGX released its SPAC listing framework, the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (HKEX) put out a consultation paper for SPAC listings. There’s a possibility that it could publish a finalised framework by end-2021. Industry observers are saying that the threshold in HKEX’s current proposal is too strict and Hong Kong may struggle to attract SPAC listings. 

The activities in Singapore and Hong Kong have caused other stock exchanges in the region to start thinking more seriously about SPACs. Take Malaysia, for instance. All of a sudden, the country’s capital markets regulator said it’s reviewing the listing framework for SPACs. 

But the regulator was also quick enough to note that it would approach the topic cautiously as the framework set by other market regulators may not be “directly transportable” to the Malaysian market. As we’ve written before, the going is getting tougher for SPACs as investors are more discerning and selective with the companies they want to back, not to mention the increased scrutiny by market regulators. 

Just like how the SPAC fever has come down in the US in less than 12 months, there’s no telling how the hype cycle will play out in Southeast Asia.

That’s all from us today. Have a great week ahead.

Best,
Arundhati
arundhati@the-ken.com

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