Editor’s take: The week that was — Feb 15-20

It’s been known for a long time that there were cracks emerging at the Philippines-based prefabricated housing construction firm Revolution Precrafted.

This week, the controversies regarding the luxury builder took a new turn when the country’s National Bureau of Investigation, acting on a complaint by contractors and suppliers, decided to probe the company. The complainants said they were duped by the firm, which allegedly led to losses worth $3 million.

Established in 2015 by Robbie Antonio, the flamboyant son of the real estate tycoon Jose Antonio, Revolution Precrafted had become the first Philippine unicorn within two years of its founding.

However, DealStreetAsia’s investigative report on Antonio and his company last year had revealed that the firm barely delivered on its promises to its customers. Revolution was also found to be raising tiny amounts of funds at lofty valuations, throwing its hallowed unicorn status into question.

We republished the two investigative articles this week as free reads, despite a notice from Lambert Worldwide, the law firm representing Robbie Antonio, to take them down.

Let’s move on to other major news stories of the week.

Interviews and deep dives

Big-ticket Series A deals, worth north of $15 million, are becoming more frequent in Indonesia, our analysis of funding data in the country showed. In January this year, four Indonesian startups closed Series A rounds exceeding $15 million each in ticket size; the same number as in the whole of 2020. In contrast, just three startups in the country had secured $15 million-plus Series A rounds in 2018-19.

In another data-led story, we reported that Indian startups raised at least $1 billion in January, a 31% drop from the corresponding month last year when fundraising was in full swing. In terms of volume, as many as 89 transactions were closed last month.

Even as the global vaccination drive continues, investors seem to be settling in for a post-COVID life.

Ant Group-backed Indonesian fintech firm Akulaku, for instance, is planning to expand the business of its digital banking affiliate Bank Neo and its logistics arm PT Trimuda Nuansa Citra Tbk to latch on to the growing e-commerce trend. Akulaku will inject capital into the companies by taking part in their rights issues.

Singapore-based venture capital firm BEENEXT is looking at ramping up its early-stage investments in Vietnam, as the country rides on growth driven by the successful containment of the pandemic. “Our investment strategy has been centred around which [COVID-induced] trends represent a permanent shift and which are temporary adaptations,” Michael Do, the company’s venture investor in Vietnam, told DealStreetAsia.

Meanwhile, Wakamono, the Vietnamese nanotechnology company that manufactures antimicrobial masks and medical protective wear, is in the market to raise $20 million. The firm plans to use the funds to expand its businesses in food & technology and cosmetics.

In Singapore, Hummingbird Bioscience is on investors’ radar after hitting developmental milestones. Its two cancer antibodies and one COVID antibody are now in their clinical stage of trials, co-founder and CEO Piers Ingram said.

In Greater China, the Hong Kong-based alternative investor Sun Hung Kai & Co (SHK & Co) made a commitment to the European quant investment fund ActusRayPartners Limited. The move is aimed at ramping up SHK & Co’s fund management capabilities and expanding external partnerships, according to Lindsey Wright, CEO of SHK’s funds management.

IPO news

The Revolution Precrafted debacle notwithstanding, real estate investment trusts in the Philippines may give a push to the country’s IPO market in 2021.

The Philippines, it turns out, could be Southeast Asia’s biggest IPO market this year. Investors and bankers say consumer retailers and REITs are lining up record fundraisings that could top $4 billion in 2021, more than the combined tally of the last seven years, according to Refinitiv data.

Meanwhile, the SPAC fervour continues unabated.

Warburg Pincus is looking to raise up to $750 million for two blank-cheque firms. The firms, Warburg Pincus Capital Corporation I—A and Warburg Pincus Capital Corporation I—B could list on NYSE.

Traveloka, Southeast Asia’s biggest online travel startup, is planning to list in the US this year to raise funds using a SPAC, according to CEO Ferry Unardi.

Catcha Group’s blank-cheque firm Catcha Investment Corp, this week, announced the pricing of its $275 million IPO on the NYSE.

For more insights into SPACs, consider registering for our forthcoming webinar on the subject.

In other IPO news, South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang Inc, backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp filed to go public on the NYSE, hoping to cash in on the strong demand for high-growth tech stocks. The firm is aiming for a $50 billion valuation.

In Greater China, tea specialist Nayuki Holdings Ltd. has filed to list in Hong Kong, shifting gears from an earlier plan to float shares in New York.

Beijing DMall E-commerce Co., an online retail service provider backed by Wumart Group, is said to be planning an initial public offering in the US.

Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com Inc. said it plans to spin off its shipping business through a listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The unit may be valued at about $40 billion.

In India, Macrotech Developers Ltd, formerly known as Lodha Developers, has filed to raise $343 million via an IPO.

Deals and fundraising news

There were some major fundraising announcements and deals sealed this week.

Novo Tellus, a Singapore-based PE firm that focuses on mid-market technology and industrials, reached the final close of its Novo Tellus PE Fund 2 at $250 million.

Indonesian early-stage VC firm SALT Ventures kicked off a roadshow to raise capital for its second fund, which is targeting a corpus of $20 million.

Another early-stage Indonesian VC, Kinesys Group hit the final close of its maiden fund at almost $15 million and is currently planning its next fund.

Border to Coast Pensions Partnership, one of the largest pension pools in the UK, committed $94 million to KKR Asian Fund IV, the record-breaking Asia-focused buyout fund of PE giant KKR & Co.

Tribe Capital, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage VC firm, filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to raise up to $150 million for Tribe Capital Fund II.

US-based alternative investment management firm Hamilton Lane reached the final closing of its global and diversified private equity secondary vehicle – Hamilton Lane Secondary Fund V. The fund secured $3.9 billion in total commitments.

Eavor Technologies Inc, a Canadian geothermal technology company, raised $40 million in a funding round backed by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and existing investor Vickers Venture Partners.

Edtechs continue to attract interest in India. Eupheus Learning raised $4.1 million in a Series B funding round led by Kuwait-based United Education Company (UEC) and Al Rayan Holding Company (ARHC), while edtech unicorn Unacademy has acquired networking platform TapChief, its sixth acquisition in the last one year.

Mumbai-based Lido Learning, too, is in advanced talks with Temasek to raise $30 million in Series B funding.

Unicorn Byju’s, meanwhile, is said to have acquired Scholr and is understood to be close to buying rival Toppr.

More deals from Southeast Asia, China, and India have been tabulated in our weekly deal monitors.

Finally, a word on bitcoin

The value of bitcoin continued to defy gravity this week, one unit of the digital currency going past $50,000.

While these are still early days for digital currencies, policymakers are warming up to the idea.

In China, ahead of the Lunar New Year, the country’s central bank distributed 50,000 Beijingers a small pick-me-up: 200 yuan ($31) in digital “red envelopes” that can be used for shopping online or offline. This push for a “digital yuan,” is part of a hard-hitting agenda by the Chinese central bank that could lead the world’s adoption of digital currencies.

Numerous others, from Thailand and Singapore to Japan and South Korea, are conducting research and trials on state-backed cryptocurrencies.

However, some are sceptical of the idea of virtual currencies.

PayPal Holdings Inc is unlikely to buy cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the payments processor’s CFO John Rainey told CNBC. “We’re not going to invest corporate cash, probably, in sort of financial assets like that, but we want to capitalise on this growth opportunity that’s in front of us,” Rainey said.

The future trajectory of the asset, as with all investments, remains uncertain.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.