Xiaomi, which is as well-known for its rice cookers as its smartphones, is the latest Chinese company blacklisted by the US. The electronics group has suspected ties to the Chinese military. Possibly, some People’s Liberation Army generals use its electric toothbrushes.
This may be one of President Donald Trump’s last anti-Chinese flurries before he leaves office and as such is appropriately impotent. The business should suffer little damage from the sanctions.
US investment will be curtailed. Xiaomi’s US backers, which include Vanguard and BlackRock, have until November 11 to divest their holdings. Barring a reversal by president-elect Joe Biden, future US capital will be limited.
Xiaomi should be able to shrug this off. Its balance sheet, with more than $10bn in cash and short-term investments, has been strengthened by US sanctions against rival smartphone company Huawei. In the third quarter, Xiaomi surpassed Apple’s shipments for the first time, according to IDC. Sales of its low and mid-range handsets surged in Europe and India. It now has nearly a quarter of the Indian market.
The company has had time to hedge smartphone revenue with low-tech products — everything from tyre inflators to air purifiers. Those business lines will be little affected by any escalation of US/China sanctions that cause disruptions to the smartphone supply chain.
Shares, which have more than tripled from a March low, trade at 40 times forward earnings. That steep valuation, more than double global peers, leaves them susceptible to bad news. A 10 per cent decline on Friday was not surprising.
But further price dips, as US investors adjust their portfolios, should be met by strong demand from mainland Chinese retail investors. Xiaomi’s wide range of products means it is a household name. There has been a recent surge in Chinese retail investor purchases of US blacklisted shares such as China Mobile. Call it patriotic bargain hunting.
Hong Kong-quoted Xiaomi once contemplated a listing in mainland China. If more capital raising is required, that will once again be an option.
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