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LeEco Cash Crunch Sets Clouf For Vizio Deal

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November 8
6:00 AM 2016

LeEco, the Chinese conglomerate, thanks to its bold ambitions to take on AppleGoogle, Tesla, Amazon, and Samsung all at once.

Now, the company's chairman and co-founder is telling employees those bold ambitions have created a serious cash crunch, according to Bloomberg. That doesn't bode well for LeEco's $2 billion acquisition of Vizio, the TV maker. That deal was announced in July, and it hasn't closed yet. Even before today's news, rumors had swirled questioning the status of the deal.

Before LeEco came along, Vizio was on track to go public. The company had filed an S-1 just two days before LeEco made its offer. Vizio was planning to raise capital at a valuation below $1 billion, according to sources. It has around $3 billion in annual sales.

If that valuation sounds low relative to its revenue, it's because the TV business is highly commoditized. And it shows just how much of a premium LeEco is willing to pay for the company.

When I asked LeEco about the status of the deal last month, a representative said the deal is still in process and it doesn't comment on rumors. The company has not responded to a request for an updated comment given this morning's news.

LeEco is the umbrella holding company for a sprawling family of businesses that includes sports media, automobiles, smartphones and TVs. The company known for its LeTV streaming service has aggressively pursued funding and placed bets on new ventures, from an electric car plant in Nevada to a $2 billion acquisition of California TV maker Vizio Inc.

"No company has had such an experience, a simultaneous time in ice and fire," We blindly sped ahead, and our cash demand ballooned. We got over-extended in our global strategy. At the same time, our capital and resources were in fact limited." Jia wrote in a letter, obtained by Bloomberg News, describing LeEco's rise and subsequent issues.

Shares in Leshi Internet Information & Technology Corp. and Coolpad Group Ltd., the two listed companies Jia chairs, fell Monday as word of the letter spread. Smartphone manufacturer Coolpad dived as much as 25 percent to its lowest since Feb. 2013, while Leshi slid as much as 7 percent to a one-year trough. Some analysts have begun to question LeEco's longer-term prospects, given the opacity surrounding investments by its various subsidiaries.

Jia's memo circulated widely on social media Monday and prompted a testy exchange with rival smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun called attention to the opacity surrounding LeEco's outstanding debt, according to a screengrab of his WeChat message account that LeEco posted. That prompted a sharp riposte from Jia's company, which blasted Xiaomi and Lei for spreading rumors. An hour later, one of Xiaomi's official Weibo accounts fired back, asking Jia to focus on LeEco's debt rather than distract the public.

Jia highlighted measures to lessen the company's burden in his memo. LeEco will immediately begin cost-cutting programs, decrease subsidies for customers and focus on existing businesses instead of new ones, he added, apologizing to shareholders of Leshi in response to criticism that he hasn't paid them enough attention.

A self-made billionaire who got his start working in IT at a local tax bureau, Jia founded Leshi Internet Information & Technology in 2004, one of the first companies in China to stream TV shows and movies to paying subscribers. He entered the smart TV businesses in 2013 and the smartphone market in 2015.

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