CARI Captures Issue 486: ASEAN startups raised total of US$8.6 billion in 2020, with 42.6% of fundraising happening in Singapore alone


Given recent developments in the region, Captures will widen its scope to include news related to members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement which was signed towards the end of 2020. The other weekly newsletters under CARI, China-ASEAN Monitor and Mekong Monitor, will also be consolidated into the Captures newsletter. We hope this new version of Captures will serve you better and look forward to providing a curation of stories relevant to ASEAN and its trading partners.

ASEAN startups raised a total of US$8.6 billion in 2020, with 42.6% of fundraising happening in Singapore alone 

(14 January 2021) According to a recently published report by Deal Street Asia, the total capital raised by Southeast Asian-based startups in 2020 totalled US$8.6 billion. This was 2% lower than that raised in 2019 – which measured at US$8.76 billion. This slight decline was attributed to corrections in company valuations as well as fewer mega-deals signed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore retained its position as the investment destination of choice in 2020, with 42.6% of total deals in the region occurring in the island state alone. Indonesia followed with a 39.2% share, and Thailand at 5.8%. 2020’s two largest fundraisers were ride-hailing giants Gojek and Grab; raising at least US$1.6 billion and US$1.1 billion respectively. Digital industries were the biggest beneficiaries overall of stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19, including fintech, e-commerce, health tech, and edtech.

2021 growth forecasts for Malaysia slashed in light of new two-weeks lockdown due combat COVID-19

(13 January 2021) Several economists have cut their 2021 growth forecasts for Malaysia after the country announced a two-week lockdown for six states and federal territories starting on 13 January 2021, to combat rising cases of COVID-19. A state of emergency was also declared that will last until 1 August, 2021. Among the economists who have cut their growth forecasts include Capital Economics (7% from 10% previously), UOB (5% from 6%), and Fitch Solutions (10% from 11.5%). Considering that the states and territories impacted by the lockdown account for 57% and 65% of the country’s population and GDP respectively, the lockdown is expected to hit the country quite significantly. However, it is believed that the state of emergency may help the Malaysian ringgit, as it will temporarily remove political uncertainty.

Toyota and Honda shut down operations at multiple plants due to strict lockdown measures 

(14 January 2021) Toyota Motor and Honda Motor have halted operations at multiple plants in Malaysia due to strict lockdown measures implemented on 13 January 2021. Toyota shut down two assembly plants on 14 January 2021, while Honda suspended production at two factories on 13 January 2021. One plant makes two-wheelers while the other produces four-wheel vehicles. In 2019, Toyota manufactured around 61,000 vehicles in Malaysia, while Honda’s annual capacity in the market is 300,000 two-wheelers and 100,000 four-wheelers. Malaysia is the third-largest auto producer in Southeast Asia, behind Thailand and Indonesia. Output during the January-November period of 2020 fell 19% to roughly 430,000 vehicles.

Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC most active state-owned investor in the world in 2020 

(13 January 2021) Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC emerged as the most active state-owned investor in the world in 2020, according to a report by independent data and analysis platform Global SWF. Out of the 438 state-owned investors included in the report, GIC) the 10th-largest state fund worldwide) deployed US$17.7 billion into 65 deals – a slight decrease from US$24 billion in 2019. The three largest state-owned investors in the world – Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), Norway’s Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) and China Investment Corporation (CIC) – were not among the world’s most active funds in 2020, due to their lack of investments in private markets. Due to COVID-19, total investment activity by state funds dropped from US$199.4 billion in 2019 to US$162.3 billion in 2020. GIC and the other Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek were the top two tech investors in the world in 2020.

Singapore tech startup Sea Ltd. acquires Indonesian bank PT Bank Kesejahteraan Ekonomi to gain a foothold in ASEAN fintech 

(13 January 2021) Singapore’s tech startup Sea Ltd. has gained ‘full control’ of Indonesian bank PT Bank Kesejahteraan Ekonomi to gain a foothold in the ASEAN fintech sector. The company acquired stakes from existing shareholders PT Danadipa Artha Indonesia and PT Koin Investama Nusantara through its subsidiary Turbo Cash Hong Kong Ltd. Sea Ltd. is Southeast Asia’s most valuable company, and plans to establish itself as a leader in financial technologies and services across the region. The company raised US$3 billion in stock offerings in December 2020, intending to use the proceeds to fund business expansion. ASEAN internet companies are all seeking to establish themselves in the digital banking industry, with Indonesian startup Gojek paying US$160 million to increase its stake in Indonesian bank PT Bank Jago, hoping to allow users to open bank accounts with Jago and then manage their finances through their app. Gojek’s e-wallet GoPay, which extends digital financial services to merchants and drivers, competes with Sea’s e-wallet ShopeePay and Ovo, backed by Grab and Tokopedia.

Philippines economy expected to rebound by between 6.5% and 7.5% in 2021

(13 January 2021) According to the governor of the Philippines’ central bank  Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the economy of the Philippines is expected to rebound by between 6.5% and 7.5% in 2021. This is after the country suffered a contraction of between 8.5% to 9.5% in 2021. The economy’s recovery has been attributed to improvements in remittances and foreign direct investments. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had delivered five interest rate cuts totalling 200 basis points in 2020, making it one of the most aggressive in the world in terms of policy easing. The central bank had also cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio by 200 basis points and provided extra liquidity support by purchasing government securities and extending loans to the government. Inflation in 2021 and 2022 is expected to remain within the targeted 2% to 4% range.

Government announces stimulus programs worth US$7 billion to support individuals and businesses 

(12 January 2021) The Thai government has announced stimulus programs worth US$7 billion to provide support to individuals and businesses impacted by the country’s largest wave of COVID-19 infections yet. Among the measures unveiled included cash handouts to about 30 million people, mostly informal sector workers and farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic. Each beneficiary will receive US$116.6 per month for two months. The government has also directed state-owned banks to boost liquidity to businessmen and farmers, with the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives offering as much as US$666.0 million worth of loans to entrepreneurs and farmers, while the Export and Import Bank of Thailand will reserve US$166.5 million for exporters and importers. Among the other stimulus measures announced include reductions in electricity and water bills for two months and reductions in land and building taxes by 90% for another year.

RCEP Monitor

China’s exports grew 18.1% year-on-year in December 2020 due to demand for pandemic goods 

(14 January 2021) China’s exports grew by 18.1% year-on-year in December 2020, while its imports rose by 6.5% year-on-year. This was due to a surge in global demand for work-from-home technology and health care equipment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in other areas of the world. China’s total trade surplus in December 2020 was US$78.2 billion. For the full year of 2020, China’s trade surplus reached US$535 billion, a 27% increase from 2019 and the highest since 2015. Exports to the U.S. surged 34.5% in December 2020 from a year earlier, while imports of American goods rose 47.7%, the most since January 2013.

New Zealand will further tighten its border measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 

(12 January 2021) New Zealand will further tighten its border measures to combat the global spread of more transmissible variants of COVID-19. From 18 January 2021, almost all people entering New Zealand will need to be tested for COVID-19 within the first 24 hours of arrival. Requirements will also be put into place for almost all travellers to New Zealand to have a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of their departure. Travellers from Australia and some Pacific island nations will be exempt from pre-departure and day one testing requirements. There will also be exemptions for young children and for those who can present a medical certificate as a past recovered case and are assessed as no longer infectious.

South Korea’s jobless rate reaches 10-year high due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases 

(13 January 2021) South Korea’s unemployment rate reached a 10-year high due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The country lost 628,000 jobs in December 2020 compared to the year prior, a tenth straight monthly drop and the highest number in two decades. The hospitality and hotel industry was the hardest hit, although the manufacturing sector also lost more than 100,000 jobs for a second month. South Korea’s Finance Minister stated that difficulties in the labour market are expected to persist through February 2021. The government has also already pledged to give US$4.2 billion in cash handouts to millions of South Koreans before next month’s Lunar New Year holiday and front-load fiscal spending in the first half of 2021.

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