« Back to Ranking

From BAT to TMD: who are the top Chinese unicorns today?

Based on information from several financial data aggregators including 36Kr, CB Insights and Hurun, our China’s Top 50 unicorns ranking is topped by Ant Group [as of March 2020]

The fintech affiliate of the internet heavyweight Alibaba was priced at more than $300 billion when it was about to uncork the world’s biggest ever IPO in November (see WiC516). Ant’s dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong was then blocked by financial regulators days ahead of its trading debut. Reportedly it is still trying to revive its IPO, although the Chinese government’s subsequent review of monopolistic behaviour among the biggest internet firms is likely to deflate its valuation significantly.

Ant’s core asset, Alipay, was introduced as one of China’s first digital payments platforms as far back as 2004 by Alibaba. For purists that means that it might not be so deserving of the unicorn title, which presupposes a shorter, more spectacular lifespan.

The rise of Bytedance – the second company on the list – has been more meteoric. The eight year-old firm operates popular news aggregator Toutiao and short-video platform Douyin. It became more recognised internationally after Donald Trump ordered a forced sale of the US operations of Douyin’s sister app TikTok. Hong Kong media has reported that Bytedance is looking to IPO in the city this year, in a deal that could value the unicorn in excess of $180 billion.

We first reported on the ‘TMD’ triumvirate – Toutiao (of Bytedance), Meituan and Didi Chuxing – in 2018 (see WiC425), talking about why they seemed to be best-placed to challenge the dominance of the established BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent).

Meituan has since gone public in Hong Kong. Trading at $280 billion as of this week, the food delivery and ‘all-in-one app’ has already dwarfed Baidu’s valuation ($94 billion).

Ride-hailing app Didi – ranking third on our list – is reportedly looking to list its shares on the Hong Kong bourse at a valuation of around $60 billion to $80 billion. Didi was riding high after gobbling up Uber’s China unit back in 2016. But the eight year-old firm then ran into a series of regulatory roadblocks in 2019 after two female passengers were murdered when using its hailing service.

Didi has set itself a mission “to build a better journey” for people around the world. But in search of a newer growth story, it has also expanded into carmaking and launched its own concept car last November. The idea is that Didi’s customers of the future won’t need to own cars of their own, CEO Cheng Wei told the audience at the launch.

Kuaishou was another of the frontrunners in the herd, but ceased to be a ‘unicorn’ in early February when it went public in Hong Kong. Such was the stellar performance of the app’s IPO (see WiC527) that Bytedance could be tempted to spin off its own (bigger) rival Douyin, perhaps testing the water for an even larger IPO for the parent firm.

E-commerce major JD.com is another of the leading unicorn breeders – and probably the most active Chinese firm in Hong Kong’s stock market in recent times. It completed its own secondary listing in Hong Kong last year, accompanied by the spin-off of JD Health. It is also planning to list JD Logistics, the fourth most valuable Chinese unicorn on our list.


© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.