Suning’s Debt Crisis: Problems and Challenges
On December 10, 2020, the China National Enterprise Credit Information Publication System
disclosed that Suning Holding Group shareholders Zhang Jindong, Zhang Kangyang and
Nanjing Runxian Enterprise Management Center had pledged all the company's shares
to Taobao with a total amount of 1 billion. On February 25, 2021, Suning announced that
Zhang Jindong, the controlling shareholder of the company, and Suning Appliance Group
Co., the shareholder, planned to transfer the company's shares with an expected
proportion of 20%-25%. The equity transferee would belong to the infrastructure industry
among others. On Feb. 28, Suning confirmed that Shenzhen International and Kpeng
Capital Investment Management will provide a 14.817-billion-yuan strategic investment, thereby exchanging 23% of shares.
As for these two companies, Shenzhen International has established highly efficient logistics
ports in more than 30 cities in China and is famous for its influence on infrastructure
development in the Shenzhen region. Kpeng Capital Investment Management is the operating
arm behind Huawei's 2020 spinoff of Honor. There is no doubt that the strategic investment will ease Suning’s current debt problems.
After the transaction is completed, the shareholding ratio of Kpeng Capital will be 15%, Shenzhen International 8%, Taobao Software Co., Ltd. 19.99%, and Zhang Jindong and his co-actors Suning Holding Group and Electrical Appliance Group 21.83%. Zhang Jindong is
also the largest shareholder of Suning.
To overcome the debt problems, for Suning, the biggest issue is still the lack of money
liquidity, which impacts its short-term business. The state-owned investment
brought by the deal might tide over the difficulties.
From 2015 to the end of 2019, the total liabilities of Suning Tesco have increased from
56.151 billion yuan to 149.71 billion yuan, among which the current liabilities have
expanded from 45.735 billion yuan to 121.257 billion yuan. In addition, according to the
data of the third quarter in 2020, the total liabilities of Suning Tesco reached 136.14 billion
yuan, and the total liquid liabilities amounted to 109.967 billion yuan.
What are the challenges that Suning faces regarding the debt problems? Since 2012, Suning has been faced with challenges from offline channels such as dealers and stores built by brand owners. Suning's e-commerce strategy failed to reverse this problem and increased the sales expense ratio for a period of time, leading to the expansion of Suning's main business losses. Considering offline Suning stores, the flow of people has been shrinking year after year. The coronavirus epidemic starting already damaged the offline shopping business and exacerbated the crisis. As for online business, Suning has to compete with China's two e-commerce giants Taobao and JD, and the emergence of Pinduoduo, Tik Tok, makes things worse.
As for investment, the source of Suning's success in recent years may be the equity swaps with Alibaba. However, investments like Suning football, PPTV and Evergrande real estate have no real benefits for Suning and have even caused huge cash flow pressure. Therefore, to ease the debt crisis, Suning also needs to reduce unnecessary investment. For Suning, the best way to solve its debt crisis after strategic investment and equity transaction is to take full use of advantages in combining online and offline retail. Compared with other e-commerce platforms, Suning's main advantage is hundreds of stores spread across the country. Therefore, Suning can focus on creating more product experience opportunities for customers in offline stores with complete products categories and use online platforms as the supplement of offline sales to form new comparative advantages.