China Finance Online Co. Limited (“China Finance Online”, or the “Company”, “we”, “us” or “our”) (NASDAQ GS: JRJC), a leading web-based financial services company that provides Chinese retail investors with online access to securities trading services, wealth management products, securities investment advisory services, as well as financial database and analytics services to institutional customers, today announced its unaudited financial results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2018.
First Quarter 2018 Financial Highlights
- Net revenues grew 53.1% year-over-year to $13.3 million from $8.7 million in the first quarter of 2017
- Revenues from the financial information and advisory business grew 72.7% year-over-year
- Revenues from financial services grew 24.3% year-over-year
- Gross margin increased to 61.9%, up from 46.4% in the first quarter of 2017
- Net loss attributable to China Finance Online was $5.2 million, compared with a net loss of $11.6 million in the first quarter of 2017
- Lingxi Robo-Advisor outperformed most of its peer products in the Chinese market with an average return of 2.4% and average drawdown rate of 4.0% in the first quarter of 2018. In the first quarter of 2018, the aggressive portfolio of Lingxi has beat 92% of equity funds and hybrid funds in terms of return
Mr. Zhiwei Zhao, Chairman and CEO of China Finance Online, commented, “As we continued to ramp up our cloud-based software sales, our bottom line losses narrowed. After four quarters of streamlining our business units, our efficiency reached a new recent high. With the bulk of our investment in our cloud system and user interface completed, we will continue to improve operational efficiency and leverage our intelligent-finance driven fintech business to drive better economy of scale.”
“We will continue to focus on fundamental operational measures to further strength our professional journalism and content quality. We strongly believe that our continued improvement on content will be recognized by more and more readers of financial market news,”
“During the development and extension of our new product for the enterprise market, Genius Zhisheng, a cloud-based one-stop investment research platform for institutional investors, we continued to find new services scenarios. Our products and services draw interest from brokerage firms and wealth management advisors. As more potential users are partaking beta testing, we have started monetizing our products and services for enterprise market gradually,” Mr. Zhao concluded.
First Quarter 2018 Financial Results
Net revenues were $13.3 million, compared with $8.7 million during the first quarter of 2017 and $13.6 million during the fourth quarter of 2017. During the first quarter of 2018, revenues from financial services, the financial information and advisory business, and advertising services contributed 50%, 37% and 13% of the net revenues, respectively, compared with 62%, 33% and 5%, respectively, for the corresponding period in 2017.
Revenues from financial services were $6.7 million, compared with $5.4 million during the first quarter of 2017 and $8.9 million during the fourth quarter of 2017. Revenues from financial services mainly represent equity brokerage services. The equity brokerage business grew 47.1% year-over-year and decreased 27.2% quarter-over-quarter.
Revenues from the financial information and advisory business were $4.9 million, an increase of 72.7% from $2.8 million during the first quarter of 2017 and 69.2% from $2.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. Revenues from the financial information and advisory business were comprised of subscription services from individual and institutional customers. During the first quarter, subscription revenue from individual investors grew by 1314.3% year-over-year, mainly due to the increased subscription of the Company’s cloud-based analytical tools among retail investors. The year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter increases of revenues from the financial information and advisory business were mainly due to the increase of subscription revenue from individual investors.
Revenues from advertising were $1.7 million, compared with $0.4 million in the first quarter of 2017 and $1.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The increased traffic to our site and readership recognition of our premium content also helped to elevate our advertising revenues.
Gross profit was $8.2 million, compared with $4.0 million in the first quarter of 2017 and $6.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. Gross margin in the first quarter of 2018 was 61.9%, compared with 46.4% in the first quarter of 2017 and 49.7% in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter increases in gross margin were mainly due to revenue mix changes associated with the growth of the financial information and advisory business, which carries a higher margin.
General and administrative expenses were $3.3 million, a decrease of 20.9% from $4.1 million in the first quarter of 2017, and a decrease of 19.8% from $4.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter decreases were mainly attributable to more stringent expense control measures and streamlining operations.
Sales and marketing expenses were $6.2 million, a decrease of 25.2% from $8.3 million in the first quarter of 2017, and a decrease of 8.8% from $6.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter decreases were mainly attributable to the reduction in headcount and rental expenses associated with the terminated commodity brokerage operation.
Research and development expenses were $3.8 million, a decrease of 12.4% from $4.3 million in the first quarter of 2017 and with no significant difference from $3.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year decrease was mainly attributable to improved efficiency after the consolidation of the R&D team. The Company continues to maintain a team of senior software engineers, data scientists and capital market professionals to support further development in its fintech capabilities.
Total operating expenses were $13.3 million, a decrease of 20.8% from $16.8 million in the first quarter of 2017, and a decrease of 9.9% from $14.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter decreases were mainly due to improved operational efficiency and effective cost controls.
Loss from operations was $5.0 million, compared with a loss from operations of $12.5 million in the first quarter of 2017 and a loss from operations of $8.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Net loss attributable to China Finance Online was $5.2 million, compared with a net loss of $11.6 million in the first quarter of 2017 and a net loss of $8.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Fully diluted loss per American Depository Shares (“ADS”) attributable to China Finance Online was $0.23 for the first quarter of 2018, compared with fully diluted loss per ADS of $0.51 for the first quarter of 2017 and fully diluted loss per ADS of $0.37 for the fourth quarter of 2017. Basic and diluted weighted average numbers of ADSs for the first quarter of 2018 were 22.8 million, compared with basic and diluted weighted average number of ADSs of 22.7 million for the first quarter of 2017. Each ADS represents five ordinary shares of the Company.
As of March 31, 2018, total cash and cash equivalents, restricted cash and short-term investments were $24.7 million.
- Lingxi Robo-Advisor recorded strong performance in first quarter of 2018
In the first quarter of 2018, the Company’s Robo-Advisor product, Lingxi, posted an average return of 2.4% (an annualized return of 10.0%) with an average drawdown rate of 4.0% which significantly outperformed the Shanghai Composite Index in return with a significantly lower drawdown. According to China Finance Online’s internal research, Lingxi’s performance in the first quarter of 2018 also exceeded most of its peer products in the market for its better return with a lower drawdown. Even though experiencing several market fluctuations in the first quarter of 2018, one of the best-performing strategies by Lingxi produced an annualized return of 15.81%. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2018, the aggressive portfolio of Lingxi beats 92% of equity funds and hybrid funds in terms of return. Since its inception in late 2016, Lingxi provides Chinese middle-class retail investors with a wide array of investment combinations and personalized global asset allocations through Chinese domestic mutual funds.
Lingxi Platinum Product, which targets mass affluent investors in China, outperformed the average level of public Fund of Funds in return with a significantly lower drawdown in the first quarter of 2018.
- 2018 China Finance Online Value Discovery Forum for Public Companies on Chinese Stock Markets
In order to leverage China Finance Online’s market influence as the leading financial media in China and share its robust machine learning and research capability on public companies’ value creation, in May 2018, the Company hosted the “2018 Value Discovery Forum for Public Companies on Chinese Stock Markets” in Chengdu. Over 80 prestigious public companies listed on the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock markets and influential investors attended the forum.
During the forum, China Finance Online also announced the 2018 Top 30 Growth Non-State-Owned-Companies, 2018 Top 30 Socially Responsible Non-State-Owned-Companies and 2018 Top 30 Investor Confidence Non-State-Owned-Companies. These rankings are based on China Finance Online’s proprietary algorithms dynamically tracking a series of datapoints including financials, valuation, growth trends, ESG (environment, social and governance) and other metrics, which enable investors to identify investment opportunities and discover value stocks.
Safe Harbor Statement
This press release contains forward-looking statements which constitute “forward-looking” statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and as defined in the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The statements contained herein reflect management’s current views with respect to future events and financial performance. These forward-looking statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that could cause the actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements, all of which are difficult to predict and many of which are beyond the control of the Company. These forward-looking statements can be identified by terminology such as “will,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “future,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “estimates” and similar statements. Among other things, this release contains the following forward-looking statements regarding:
- our prospect and our ability to attract new users;
- our prospect on building a comprehensive wealth management ecosystem through providing a fully-integrated online communication and securities-trading platform;
- our prospect on stabilization in cash attrition and improvement of our financial position;
- our initiatives to address customers’ demand for intuitive online investment platforms and alternative investment opportunities; and
- the market prospect of the business of securities-trading, securities investment advisory and wealth management.
Such statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements, which risk factors and uncertainties include, amongst others, changing customer needs, regulatory environment and market conditions that we are subject to; the uneven condition of the world and Chinese economies that could lead to volatility in the equity markets and affect our operating results in the coming quarters; the impact of the changing conditions of the mainland Chinese stock market, mainland Chinese precious metals exchanges, Hong Kong stock market and global financial markets on our future performance; the unpredictability of our strategic transformation and growth of new businesses; the prospect of our margin-related business and the degree to which our implementation of margin account screening and ongoing monitoring will yield successful outcomes; the degree to which our strategic collaborations with partners will yield successful outcomes; the prospects for China’s high-net-worth and middle-class households; the prospects of equipping our customer specialists with new technology, tools and financial knowledge; wavering investor confidence that could impact our business; and possible non-cash goodwill, intangible assets and investment impairments may adversely affect our net income. Further information regarding these and other risks is included in the Company’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including its annual report on Form 20-F under “Forward-Looking Information” and “Risk Factors”. The Company does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statement as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required under applicable law.
Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room
suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”
Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online.
It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.
But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.
- Improve the picture quality of your call
The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.
Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”
Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”
- Place your camera at eye level
A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.
Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.”
Low camera placement from a MacBook
- Make the most of natural lighting
Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.
Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.”
Backlit against a window Facing natural light
- Use supplementary lighting like ring lights
The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.
Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.
“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.
Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.”
In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.
- Centre yourself in the frame
Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.
“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”
- Be mindful of your backdrop
It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.
“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”
A busy background as seen by a webcam
- Make the most of virtual backgrounds
If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.
Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”
- Be aware of your audio settings
Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.
“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.
The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”
- Be wary of video app add-ons
Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.
“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”
- Be the best looking person in the virtual room
What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.
Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation
By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech
If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.
Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.
If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.
But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.
For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.
Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.
The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.
However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.
The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.
With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.
The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.
With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.
Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.
Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.
The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.
What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders
By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel
The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?
Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.
Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?
Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.
Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.
Foreign entity incorporation
To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.
As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.
U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.
Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.
Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties
When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.
Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.
Are you GILTI?
Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.
Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.
The end goal
Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.
If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.
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