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China’s JD Prepares to Take on Amazon on Its Home Turf

Updated on
  • Tencent and other investors to buy 15% of JD Logistics
  • The Billionaire CEO is preparing for a Los Angeles launch

JD.com Inc. is preparing to make its U.S. debut with a beachhead in Los Angeles, seeking to best arch-rival Alibaba and challenge Amazon.com Inc. on its home turf.

The $68 billion company, which said in December it’ll start online sales in the U.S. by the second half of 2018, is now seeking funds to bankroll a logistics build-up to support an international expansion. JD is in final-stage discussions to sell 15 percent of its logistics arm to Tencent Holdings Ltd. and other investors in an early fundraising round. Tencent will get about a third of the shares on offer and the deal will be completed by the middle of next month, billionaire founder Richard Liu said in an interview.

That’s a precursor to a logistics initial public offering in China or Hong Kong in about three years, Liu said, giving his most detailed outline of JD’s global push to date. The company founder wants to leapfrog Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which like JD rode an unprecedented Chinese consumer spending boom but remains largely home-bound.

“JD’s rule is that once we decide to do something we never limit the money,” Liu said in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. The company wants half of its revenue from overseas within a decade and “we will continue to invest until we achieve our goal,” he said.

JD, which is listed in New York, is eyeing the largest city on the U.S. west coast because of its enormous Chinese diaspora, and may lean on shareholder Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for initial logistics support. Liu, who said this week he worried about the increasing difficulty of penetrating a protectionist American market, said he was considering multiple options for a U.S. entry, including partnerships with local companies.

JD jumped 4.4 percent to $49.48 at 11:10 a.m. in New York, giving the company a market value of $70.7 billion.

“This year, Vietnam, India, Philippines, Malaysia - every Southeast Asian country - we will come by the end of this year,” Liu said. “Our future is we will invest in U.S. and build a warehouse fulfillment center in U.S. so you can get same-day delivery.”

JD has said previously it wants to start online sales in Europe and the U.S. by the second half of 2018. Liu’s strategy is simple: sell quality Chinese goods at lower prices than his competitors. He wants half of JD’s revenue to come from abroad in 10 years, hopefully evenly distributed between Southeast Asia, the U.S. and Europe.

New Street Research analyst Kirk Boodry said JD getting half of its revenue from overseas would be a surprising achievement, and questioned its ability to win market share in countries where rivals were firmly entrenched.

But the company is lining up powerful backers to realize its vision. JD is Wal-Mart’s main partner in China, and it’s teamed up with Tencent in a number of deals, including last month’s $863 million investment into VIPShop Holdings Ltd. Tencent declined to comment on the logistics stake.

A “secret team” spent two years brainstorming with Chinese brands such as Xiaomi Corp. on how to take the platform global, Liu said last year. Its push into the developed world however will be one of JD’s riskiest ventures to date. The online retailer’s expansion into Southeast Asia, starting with operations in Indonesia and Thailand, faced relatively little competition. That won’t be the case for Europe or the U.S., where Amazon is active.

“We feel a little bit more optimistic about the prospects for a company that can leverage what they have in China overseas, and with JD we just don’t see them having anything in particular that stands out,” Boodry said. “But the idea of JD logistics setting up a facility and presence in the West Coast makes sense, when you think about the potential for cross-border e-commerce and import and exports from China.”

— With assistance by David Ramli, John Fraher, and Ying Tian

(Updates with stock price in sixth paragraph.)
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