Forbes Asia February/March 2021

Forbes Asia chronicles entrepreneurs, executives and companies throughout Asia.

United States
Forbes Media LLC
13 Issues

in this issue

2 min

Welcome to a new year and to the first issue of Forbes Asia for 2021. As we enter this new year, it’s natural to have fresh hope for change and renewal. Vaccines are rolling out around the globe, raising expectations that the end of the pandemic is in sight. The U.S. has a new, and very different, administration, and it is already causing shifts in the global political scene, including across Asia. To be sure, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The U.S.-China relationship seems to have undergone a fundamental shift towards what is termed by some as “strategic competition.” Attitudes toward travel and healthcare may also be permanently altered. The emerging new normal presents some intriguing juxtapositions. The capital markets are buoyant (even frothy), with stock markets…

3 min
innovation thrives in crisis

When I started this column two years ago, I focused on the two Pacific Coasts: the “east coast” of U.S. tech firms and venture capital centered primarily in Silicon Valley and Seattle; and the “west coast” that includes dynamic Southeast Asia. The two coasts, an ocean apart, with distinct cultures and histories, have more in common than most assume—take economic growth in 2020. America’s GDP shrank 3.4% while the ASEAN-5’s shrank 3.5%. And in 2021, the IMF predicts similar growth for both again: the U.S. of 5.1% and ASEAN-5 at 5.2%. The ASEAN-5 (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) has a combined population of 460 million, the U.S. 330 million. The median age in the U.S. is roughly a decade older than that in the ASEAN-5, putting it closer to China’s,…

7 min
bitcoin is not money—yet

Bitcoin is the new darling of investors. It has rocketed since March 2020 from $5,000 to over $50,000. Fans are predicting that it will continue its rise and head to $100,000 or higher. But that doesn’t make Bitcoin an alternative to the dollar yet. People are rushing in because of a lack of faith in government currencies. The Federal Reserve and other central banks have crushed interest rates and are printing unimaginable amounts of money to pay for Covid relief measures and to stimulate damaged economies. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are now seen as a respectable investment class, and financial institutions are adding Bitcoin to their portfolios. Enthusiasts say Bitcoin is the new gold and that it will eventually replace the dollar. Not so fast! Whatever Bitcoin is, it’s not money. We use money to buy…

8 min
major miniso

In the pre-Covid era, Ye Guofu, the founder of Chinese affordable lifestyle retailer Miniso, would spend months overseas scouting out potential new markets. While the pandemic has temporarily paused his trips abroad, it hasn’t thwarted his plans for international expansion. “Our company is still thinking of ways to grow,” the 44-year-old says in an in-person interview at the firm’s headquarters in Guangzhou, one of his first with a major interna-tional media outlet. “I am confident of Miniso’s long-term prospects.” The buildout of Ye’s New York-listed chain continues apace. Despite the pandemic pummeling bricks-and-mortar retailers last year, the purveyor of inexpensive but sleekly designed household goods, such as $2 mascara and $6 headphones, opened more than 400 stores in the 12 months to September, including its first in Northern Europe. Of Miniso’s…

8 min
the star of northstar

One of the hottest stocks on Indonesia’s stock market over the past year has been a money-losing bank called Bank Jago. After lying largely dormant since its 2016 IPO, the small, Bandung-based lender’s shares have soared 35-fold since August 2019. That date is when Bank Jago (then called Bank Artos) took on a new investor, Patrick Walujo, to help transform it from struggling brick-and-mortar lender into a digital bank. Though Bank Jago is one of Indonesia’s smallest in terms of assets, the rally in its stock has turned it into one of the country’s ten largest in terms of market capitalization—thanks in large part to investor optimism for Walujo’s track record of combining heavy connections with game-changing investments to unearth rich veins of value. Walujo is cofounder and managing partner of Singapore-headquartered…

1 min
balanced growth

Many of the companies Northstar has invested in are making an impact on Indonesian society as well as Northstar’s bottom line, whether it’s the jobs created by Gojek or the capital provided by BTPN Syariah to unbanked Indonesian women. In 2014, it established the Northstar Foundation to have an even more direct impact on the social and economic development of Indonesia’s remote communities. Examples of Northstar Foundation’s investments so far include Jati Lintang, a sustainable teak plantation in Central Java; Electric Vine Industries, a micro-utility bringing sustainable energy to un-electrified Indonesians; and Du’Anyam, a social enterprise that produces and sells wicker crafts to empower and improve the health of women in rural Indonesia. “Northstar Foundation is still small but it’s our (early) effort to institutionalize our contributions to social causes across…