An electronic ad for Xiaomi Technology in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
An electronic ad for Xiaomi Technology in Shanghai. Photo: AFP

These are strange days for Xiaomi. The high-profile Chinese smartphone manufacturer has announced plans to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the IPO could value the company at up to US$100 billion.

But the decision by co-founder Lei Jun comes at a time when the world’s second-biggest economy is locked in a trade row with the United States over a spiraling trade deficit and advanced technologies.

Included in the dispute are semiconductors and especially high-end microchips, which power most of Xiaomi’s products, such as smartphones and tablets.

As Asia Times reported earlier this week, China has to import about $200 billion worth of chips from the US each year, despite Beijing’s ambitious program to upgrade its semiconductor sector.

So, if trade talks with Washington collapse and President Donald Trump pushes to bring in a quota of ‘chip exports’, China’s high-tech companies such as Xiaomi would be badly hit.

Hopefully, a deal will eventually be thrashed out although the White House’s beef about “advanced technologies” is unlikely to fade away.

“China [will] not [be] willing to accede to a key US demand – that it stops subsidizing the 10 high-tech industries targeted in the ‘Made in China 2025’ program,” David Dollar, a senior fellow at John L. Thornton China Center and an economist at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, wrote on Tuesday.

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Against this backdrop, Xiaomi gave investors the first detailed glimpse at its financial position ahead of the much-hyped IPO.

Revenue last year, the company revealed, was 114.62 billion yuan ($18 billion), a 67% rise compared to 2016. Xiaomi also disclosed a net loss of 43.89 billion yuan during the same period compared to a profit of 491.6 million yuan in 2016.

But operating profit came in at 12.22 billion yuan last year, up from 3.79 billion yuan in 2016, the Reuters news agency reported.

“We have changed how hundreds of millions of people live, and we will become a part of the lives of billions of people globally in the future,” co-founder Lei wrote in the prospectus for the flotation.

Apart from smartphones, Xiaomi has rolled out an array of Internet-connected home appliances and gadgets, including scooters, air purifiers, rice cookers and even drones.

Still, it derives most of its profits from internet services.

In the smartphone market, the Beijing-based tech company manufactures relatively cheap handsets and has started to muscle into a market dominated by Samsung and Apple. It is now the fourth biggest behind fellow Chinese competitor Huawei.

“Xiaomi has fixed its smartphone business,” CK Lu, a research director at Gartner, the global research company, told Forbes. “Momentum is very good now.”

With a bit of luck, it will not be brought to a grinding halt by Washington’s ongoing technological squabble with Beijing.