SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934.
For the transition period from to
Commission file number
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Chief Financial Officer
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Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
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☐ Item 17 ☐ Item 18
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☐ Yes ☐ No
GDS HOLDINGS LIMITED
FORM 20-F ANNUAL REPORT
FISCAL YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2020
Conventions That Apply to This Annual Report on Form 20-F
Unless we indicate otherwise, references in this annual report on Form 20-F to:
|●||“2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law” are to the PRC Foreign Investment Law promulgated by the National People’s Congress in March 2019, which became effective on January 1, 2020;|
|●||“ADSs” are to our American depositary shares, each of which represents eight Class A ordinary shares, and “ADRs” are to the American depositary receipts that evidence our ADSs;|
|●||“area committed” are to that part of our area in service which is committed to customers pursuant to customer agreements remaining in effect;|
|●||“area held for future development” are to the estimated net floor area that we have secured for potential future development by different means, including greenfield and brownfield land which we have acquired or which we expect to acquire pursuant to binding framework agreements with local governments, building shells which we have purpose-built on land which we own, and existing buildings for which we have entered into agreements in connection with their acquisition or lease with the intention of converting or redeveloping into data centers, but which are not actively under construction;|
|●||“area in service” are to the entire net floor area of data centers (or phases of data centers) which are ready for service;|
|●||“area pre-committed” are to that part of our area under construction which is pre-committed to customers pursuant to customer agreements remaining in effect;|
|●||“area under construction” are to the entire net floor area of data centers (or phases of data centers) which are actively under construction and have not yet reached the stage of being ready for service;|
|●||“area utilized” are to that part of our area in service that is committed to customers and revenue generating pursuant to the terms of customer agreements remaining in effect;|
|●||“Articles” or “Articles of Association” are to our Articles of Association (as amended from time to time), adopted on October 18, 2016 and effective on November 7, 2016;|
|●||“build-operate-transfer data centers” or “B-O-T data centers” are to data centers that we undertake to build and operate for specific customers for their exclusive use, and transfer to such customers at the end of the contract period;|
|●||“B-O-T joint venture data centers” are to B-O-T data centers in which we intend to sell an equity interest to our joint venture partner, GIC;|
|●||“carrier-neutral” or “cloud-neutral” are to data centers that are not owned, operated, or tied to any one network or cloud service provider, respectively;|
|●||“CBIRC” are to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission;|
|●||“CCASS” are to the Central Clearing and Settlement System established and operated by Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited;|
|●||“China” and the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Taiwan, the Hong Kong and the Macao;|
|●||“Circular 82” are to the Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-controlled Offshore-Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the basis of de facto management bodies, issued on April 22, 2009 and further amended on December 29, 2017;|
|●||“Class A ordinary shares” are to Class A ordinary shares in the share capital of our company with a par value of US$0.00005 each, conferring a holder of a Class A ordinary share to one vote per share on any resolution tabled at our general meeting;|
|●||“Class B ordinary shares” are to Class B ordinary shares in the share capital of our company with a par value of US$0.00005 each, conferring weighted voting rights in our company such that a holder of a Class B ordinary share is entitled to 20 votes per share on resolutions tabled at our general meeting for (i) the election or removal of a simple majority, or six, of our directors; and (ii) any change to our Articles of Association that would adversely affect the rights of Class B shareholders, and which are convertible into Class A ordinary shares, and will automatically convert into Class A ordinary shares under certain circumstances;|
|●||“commitment rate” are to the ratio of area committed to area in service;|
|●||“Companies (WUMP) Ordinance” are to the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Chapter 32 of the Laws of Hong Kong), as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“Controlling Shareholders” are to Mr. Huang and STT GDC, unless the context otherwise requires; such term has the meaning ascribed to it under the Hong Kong Listing Rules;|
|●||“CSRC” are to the China Securities Regulatory Commission;|
|●||“Data Center Operation Management Platform” are to the platform we developed and operate which provides real-time information on many aspects of data center operating performance;|
|●||“DTC” are to The Depository Trust Company, the central book-entry clearing and settlement system for equity securities in the United States and the clearance system for our ADSs;|
|●||“Entity List” are to the list maintained by the United States or U.S. Department of Commerce identifying foreign entities believed to be involved, or pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States and which are prohibited from acquiring some or all items subject to the U.S. Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”);|
|●||“foreign private issuer” are to such term as defined in Rule 3b-4 under the U.S. Exchange Act;|
|●||“GDS Beijing” are to Beijing Wanguo Chang’an Science and Technology Co., Ltd., a limited liability company established in the PRC on May 30, 2006 and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Management HoldCo;|
|●||“GDS Holdings,” “company,” “our company,” “we,” “our” or “us” are to GDS Holdings Limited, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands with limited liability on December 1, 2006 and, where the context requires, its consolidated subsidiaries and its consolidated affiliated entities, including its variable interest entities and their subsidiaries, from time to time;|
|●||“GDS Investment Company” are to GDS (Shanghai) Investment Co., Ltd. (formerly known as Shanghai Free Trade Zone GDS Management Co., Ltd.), a limited liability company established in the PRC on December 30, 2015 and our wholly-owned indirect subsidiary;|
|●||“GDS Shanghai” are to Shanghai Shu’an Data Services Co., Ltd., a limited liability company established in the PRC on May 4, 2011 and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Management HoldCo;|
|●||“GDS Suzhou” are to Global Data Solutions Co., Ltd., a limited liability company established in the PRC on September 30, 2000 and a wholly-owned subsidiary of GDS Beijing;|
|●||“GIC” are to GIC Private Limited, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund;|
|●||“gross floor area” are either to the total internal area of buildings which we own, or to the total area under lease with respect to buildings which we lease;|
|●||“Group,” “our Group,” “the Group,” “we,” “us,” or “our” are to our company and our subsidiaries (including the variable interest entities) from time to time;|
|●||“HK$,” “Hong Kong dollars” or “HK dollars” are to Hong Kong dollars, the lawful currency of Hong Kong;|
|●||“Hong Kong” or “HK” are to the Hong Kong of the PRC;|
|●||“Hong Kong Listing Rules” are to the Rules Governing the Listing of Securities on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited, as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“Hong Kong Share Registrar” are to Computershare Hong Kong Investor Services Limited;|
|●||“Hong Kong Stock Exchange” are to The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited;|
|●||“IDC(s)” are to internet data center(s);|
|●||“M&A Rules” are to the Rules on the Merger and Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors jointly issued by MOFCOM, SASAC, STA, CSRC, SAIC and SAFE on August 8, 2006, effective on September 8, 2006 and further amended on June 22, 2009 by MOFCOM;|
|●||“Macau” are to the Macau of the PRC;|
|●||“Management HoldCo” are to Shanghai Xinwan Enterprise Management Co., Ltd., a limited liability company established in the PRC on October 16, 2019; as of March 31, 2021, the shareholders of Management HoldCo were Yilin Chen (senior vice president, product and service), Yan Liang (senior vice president, operation and delivery), Liang Chen (senior vice president, data center design), Andy Wenfeng Li (general counsel, compliance officer, and company secretary) and Qi Wang (head of cloud and network business); such shareholders were designated by the board of directors of our company;|
|●||“Memorandum” or “Memorandum of Association” are to our memorandum of association (as amended from time to time);|
|●||“MIIT” are to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology;|
|●||“MOFCOM” are to the Ministry of Commerce of the PRC;|
|●||“move-in period” are to the period commencing when part of the area committed under a particular customer agreement becomes area utilized and ending when all of the area committed under such customer agreement becomes area utilized in accordance with the terms of such customer agreement remaining in effect;|
|●||“Mr. Huang” are to Mr. William Wei Huang, the founder, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer of our company and a Controlling Shareholder;|
|●||“Nasdaq” are to the Nasdaq Global Market;|
|●||“NDRC” are to the National Development and Reform Commission;|
|●||“Negative List (2020)” are to the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access, most recently jointly promulgated by the MOFCOM and the NDRC on June 23, 2020 and which became effective on July 23, 2020, as amended, supplemented or otherwise modified from time to time;|
|●||“net floor area” are to the total internal area of the computer rooms within each data center where customers can house, power and cool their computer systems and networking equipment;|
|●||“ordinary shares” are to, collectively, our Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.00005 per share;|
|●||“PBOC” are to the People’s Bank of China;|
|●||“PCAOB” are to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board;|
|●||“PRC government” or “State” are to the central government of the PRC, including all political subdivisions (including provincial, municipal and other regional or local government entities) and its organs or, as the context requires, any of them;|
|●||“pre-commitment rate” are to the ratio of area pre-committed to area under construction;|
|●||“Principal Share Registrar” are to Conyers Trust Company (Cayman) Limited;|
|●||“PUE” are to power usage effectiveness;|
|●||“PUE ratio” are to power usage effectiveness ratio, a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a data center; it is determined by dividing the total amount of power consumed by the data center by the total amount of power consumed directly by customers to operate their IT systems housed in the data center;|
|●||“ready for service” are to data centers (or phases of data centers) which have passed commissioning and testing, obtained government approvals for operation, are fully supplied with power, and contain one or more computer rooms fully equipped and fitted out ready for utilization by customers;|
|●||“RMB” or “Renminbi” are to Renminbi, the lawful currency of the PRC;|
|●||“SAFE” are to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of the PRC, the PRC governmental agency responsible for matters relating to foreign exchange administration, including local branches, when applicable;|
|●||“SAFE Circular 37” are to the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles promulgated by SAFE with effect from July 4, 2014;|
|●||“SAIC” are to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of the PRC, currently known as the PRC State Administration for Market Regulation;|
|●||“SASAC” are to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council;|
|●||“SCNPC” are to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the PRC;|
|●||“SEC” are to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission;|
|●||“self-developed data centers” are to data centers operated by us that we either purpose-build from the ground up, develop from building shells purpose-built for us, convert from existing buildings, acquire, or build, operate, and transfer pursuant to contacts with specific customers, excluding B-O-T joint venture data centers;|
|●||“SFO” are to the Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571 of the Laws of Hong Kong), as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“shareholder(s)” are to holder(s) of ordinary shares and, where the context requires, ADSs;|
|●||“sqm” are to square meters;|
|●||“STA” are to the State Taxation Administration of the PRC;|
|●||“State Council” are to the PRC State Council;|
|●||“STT GDC” are to STT GDC Pte. Ltd., a private limited liability company incorporated in Singapore on November 21, 2012, and a wholly owned subsidiary of STT Communications Ltd, which is in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Telemedia Pte. Ltd.;|
|●||“Takeovers Codes” are to the Codes on Takeovers and Mergers and Share Buy-backs issued by the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong;|
|●||“third-party data centers” are to data center net floor area operated by us that we lease on a wholesale basis from other data center providers and use to provide data center services to our customers;|
|●||“Tier 1 markets” are to the areas in and around the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Chengdu and Chongqing;|
|●||“total area committed” are to the sum of area committed and area pre-committed;|
|●||“UK” or “United Kingdom” are to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;|
|●||“U.S.” or “United States” are to the United States of America, its territories, its possessions and all areas subject to its jurisdiction;|
|●||“U.S. Exchange Act” are to the United States Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder;|
|●||“U.S. GAAP” are to accounting principles generally accepted in the United States;|
|●||“U.S. Securities Act” are to the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder;|
|●||“US$” or “U.S. dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States;|
|●||“utilization rate” are to the ratio of area utilized to area in service;|
|●||“variable interest entities,” “VIE” or “VIEs” are to our variable interest entities that are 100% owned by PRC citizens or by PRC entities owned by PRC citizens, where applicable, that hold the VATS licenses, or other business operation licenses or approvals, in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited, and are consolidated into our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP as if they were our wholly-owned subsidiaries;|
|●||“VAT” are to value-added tax; all amounts are exclusive of VAT in this annual report except where indicated otherwise;|
|●||“VATS” are to value-added telecommunications services;|
|●||“VIE structure” or “Contractual Arrangements with consolidated VIEs” are to the variable interest entity structure; and|
|●||“WFOE(s)” are to wholly foreign owned enterprise(s) incorporated in the PRC which is/are directly or indirectly wholly owned by our company.|
Unless specifically indicated otherwise or unless the context otherwise requires, all references to our ordinary shares exclude Class A ordinary shares issuable upon (i) the exercise of options outstanding under our share incentive plans, (ii) conversion of our convertible senior notes and (iii) conversion of our convertible preferred shares.
This annual report contains translations between Renminbi and U.S. dollars solely for the convenience of the reader. The translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, the exchange rate set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Federal Reserve Board on December 31, 2020. We make no representation that the Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been or could be converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate or at all.
This annual report includes our audited consolidated financial statements for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Our ADSs are listed on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol “GDS.” Our ordinary shares are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the stock code “9698.”
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
Selected Financial Data
The selected consolidated financial data shown below should be read in conjunction with “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects,” and the financial statements and the notes to those statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected consolidated statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. We derived the selected consolidated statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2017, and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018, as set forth below, from our audited consolidated financial statements that are not included in this Form 20-F. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles in the United States, or U.S. GAAP.
We adopted Accounting Standards Update (“ASU”) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842) (“ASC 842”) on January 1, 2019, using a modified retrospective method. Accordingly, financial data for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 were not restated, which impacts the year-to-year comparability. See Note 2 of the Consolidated Financial Statements for more detailed information regarding adoption of the new lease standard.
We adopted ASU No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606) (“ASC 606”) on January 1, 2018, and applied the cumulative effect method – i.e. by recognizing the cumulative effect of initially applying ASC 606 as an adjustment to the opening balance of accumulated deficit at January 1, 2018. We elect to apply this guidance retrospectively only to contracts that are not completed contracts as of January 1, 2018.
Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for numbers of shares and per share data)
Consolidated Statement of Operations Data:
Cost of revenue
Selling and marketing expenses
General and administrative expenses
Research and development expenses
(Loss) Income from operations
Other income (expenses)
Net interest expense
Foreign currency exchange (loss) gain, net
Gain from purchase price adjustment
Loss before income taxes
Income tax benefits (expenses)
Net loss attributable to redeemable non-controlling interests
Net loss attributable to GDS Holdings Limited shareholders
Accretion to redemption value of redeemable non-controlling interests
Net loss available to GDS Holdings Limited shareholders
Change in redemption value of redeemable preferred shares
Cumulative dividend on redeemable preferred shares
Net loss available to GDS Holdings Limited ordinary shareholders
Loss per ordinary share—basic and diluted
Weighted average number of ordinary shares outstanding—basic and diluted
As of December 31,
(in thousands, except for numbers of shares and per share data)
Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Accounts receivable, net
Total current assets
Total current liabilities
Total mezzanine equity
Total shareholders’ equity
Key Financial Metrics
We monitor the following key financial metrics to help us evaluate growth trends, establish budgets, measure the effectiveness of our business strategies and assess operational efficiencies:
Year Ended December 31,
Other Consolidated Financial Data:
|(1)||Gross profit as a percentage of net revenue.|
|(2)||(Loss)/income from operations as a percentage of net revenue.|
|(3)||Net loss as a percentage of net revenue.|
In evaluating our business, we consider and use the following non-GAAP measures as supplemental measures to review and assess our operating performance:
Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for numbers of shares and per share data)
Non-GAAP Consolidated Financial Data:
Adjusted EBITDA margin(2)
Adjusted gross profit(3)
Adjusted gross profit margin(4)
|(1)||Adjusted EBITDA is defined as net income or net loss (computed in accordance with GAAP) excluding net interest expenses, incomes tax expenses (benefits), depreciation and amortization, operating lease cost relating to prepaid land use rights, accretion expenses for asset retirement costs, share-based compensation expenses and gain from purchase price adjustment.|
|(2)||Adjusted EBITDA margin is defined as adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of net revenue.|
|(3)||Adjusted gross profit is defined as gross profit (computed in accordance with U.S. GAAP), excluding depreciation and amortization, operating lease cost relating to prepaid land use rights, accretion expenses for asset retirement costs and share-based compensation expenses allocated to cost of revenue.|
|(4)||Adjusted gross profit margin is defined as adjusted gross profit as a percentage of net revenue.|
Our management and board of directors use adjusted EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA margin, adjusted gross profit, and adjusted gross profit margin, which are non-GAAP financial measures, to evaluate our operating performance, establish budgets and develop operational goals for managing our business. We believe that the exclusion of the income and expenses eliminated in calculating adjusted EBITDA and adjusted gross profit can provide useful supplemental measures of our core operating performance. In particular, we believe that the use of adjusted EBITDA as a supplemental performance measure captures the trend in our operating performance by excluding from our operating results the impact of our capital structure (primarily interest expense), asset base charges (primarily depreciation and amortization and accretion expenses for asset retirement costs), other non-cash expenses (primarily share-based compensation expenses), and other income and expenses which we believe are not reflective of our operating performance, whereas the use of adjusted gross profit as a supplemental performance measure captures the trend in gross profit performance of our data centers in service by excluding from our gross profit the impact of asset base charges (primarily depreciation and amortization and accretion expenses for asset retirement costs) and other non-cash expenses (primarily share-based compensation expenses) included in cost of revenue.
We note that depreciation and amortization is a fixed cost which commences as soon as each data center enters service. However, it usually takes several years for new data centers to reach high levels of utilization and profitability. The Company incurs significant depreciation and amortization costs for its early stage data center assets. Accordingly, gross profit, which is a measure of profitability after taking into account depreciation and amortization, does not accurately reflect the Company’s core operating performance.
We also present these non-GAAP measures because we believe these non-GAAP measures are frequently used by analysts, investors and other interested parties as measures of the financial performance of companies in our industry.
These non-GAAP financial measures are not defined under U.S. GAAP and are not presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP. These non-GAAP financial measures have limitations as analytical tools, and when assessing our operating performance, cash flows or our liquidity, investors should not consider them in isolation, or as a substitute for net income (loss), cash flows provided by (used in) operating activities or other consolidated statements of operations and cash flow data prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP. There are a number of limitations related to the use of these non-GAAP financial measures instead of their nearest GAAP equivalent. First, adjusted EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA margin, adjusted gross profit, and adjusted gross profit margin are not substitutes for gross profit, net income (loss), cash flows provided by (used in) operating activities or other consolidated statements of operation and cash flow data prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP. Second, other companies may calculate these non-GAAP financial measures differently or may use other measures to evaluate their performance, all of which could reduce the usefulness of these non-GAAP financial measures as tools for comparison. Finally, these non-GAAP financial measures do not reflect the impact of net interest expenses, incomes tax benefits (expenses), depreciation and amortization, operating lease cost relating to prepaid land use rights, accretion expenses for asset retirement costs, share-based compensation expenses and gain from purchase price adjustment, each of which has been and may continue to be incurred in our business.
We mitigate these limitations by reconciling the non-GAAP financial measure to the most comparable U.S. GAAP performance measure, all of which should be considered when evaluating our performance.
The following table reconciles our adjusted EBITDA in the years presented to the most directly comparable financial measure calculated and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP, which is net income or net loss:
Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for numbers of shares and per share data)
Net interest expenses
Income tax (benefits) expenses
Depreciation and amortization
Operating lease cost relating to prepaid land use rights
Accretion expenses for asset retirement costs
Share-based compensation expenses
Gain from purchase price adjustment
The following table reconciles our adjusted gross profit in the years presented to the most directly comparable financial measure calculated and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP, which is gross profit:
Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for numbers of shares and per share data)
Depreciation and amortization
Operating lease cost relating to prepaid land use rights
Accretion expenses for asset retirement costs
Share-based compensation expenses
Adjusted gross profit
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
Risks Relating to Our Business and Industry
A slowdown in the demand for data center capacity or managed services could have a material adverse effect on us.
Adverse developments in the data center market, in the industries in which our customers operate, or in demand for cloud computing could lead to a decrease in the demand for data center capacity or managed services, which could have a material adverse effect on us. We face risks including:
|●||a decline in the technology industry, such as a decrease in the use of mobile or web-based commerce, business layoffs or downsizing, relocation of businesses, increased costs of complying with existing or new government regulations and other factors;|
|●||a reduction in cloud adoption or a slowdown in the growth of the internet generally as a medium for commerce and communication and the use of cloud-based platforms and services in particular;|
|●||a downturn in the market for data center capacity generally, which could be caused by an oversupply of or reduced demand for space, and a downturn in cloud-based data center demand in particular; and|
|●||the rapid development of new technologies or the adoption of new industry standards that render our or our customers’ current products and services obsolete or unmarketable and, in the case of our customers, that contribute to a downturn in their businesses, increasing the likelihood of a default under their service agreements or that they become insolvent.|
To the extent that any of these or other adverse conditions occur, they are likely to impact market demand and pricing for our services.
Any inability to manage the growth of our operations could disrupt our business and reduce our profitability.
We have experienced significant growth in recent years. Our net revenue grew from RMB2,792.1 million in 2018 to RMB4,122.4 million in 2019, representing an increase of 47.6%, and further increased to RMB5,739.0 million (US$879.5 million) in 2020, representing an increase of 39.2%. We derive net revenue primarily from colocation services and, to a lesser extent, managed services. In addition, we also sell IT equipment either on a stand-alone basis or bundled in a managed service agreement and provide consulting services. Our net revenues from colocation services were RMB2,104.3 million, RMB3,261.7 million and RMB4,710.9 million (US$722.0 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, representing 75.4%, 79.1% and 82.1% of total net revenue over the same periods, respectively. Our net revenues from managed services and other services were RMB655.2 million, RMB832.8 million and RMB1,006.0 million (US$154.2 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, representing 23.4%, 20.2% and 17.5% of total net revenue over the same periods, respectively. Our net revenue from IT equipment sales were RMB32.6 million, RMB27.9 million and RMB22.1 million (US$3.4 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, representing 1.2%, 0.7% and 0.4% of total net revenue over the same periods, respectively.
Our operations have also expanded in recent years through increases in the number and size of the data center facilities we operate, which we expect will continue to grow. Our rapid growth has placed, and will continue to place, significant demands on our management and our administrative, operational and financial systems. Continued expansion increases the challenges we face in:
|●||obtaining suitable sites or land to build new data centers;|
|●||establishing new operations at additional data centers and maintaining efficient use of the data center facilities we operate;|
|●||managing a large and growing customer base with increasingly diverse requirements;|
|●||expanding our service portfolio to cover a wider range of services, including managed cloud services;|
|●||creating and capitalizing on economies of scale;|
|●||being exposed to protectionist or national security policies that restrict our ability to invest in or acquire companies or develop, import or export certain technologies;|
|●||obtaining additional capital to meet our future capital needs;|
|●||recruiting, training and retaining a sufficient number of skilled technical, sales and management personnel;|
|●||maintaining effective oversight over personnel and multiple data center locations;|
|●||coordinating work among sites and project teams; and|
|●||developing and improving our internal systems, particularly for managing our continually expanding business operations.|
In addition, we have grown our business through acquisitions in the past and intend to continue selectively pursuing strategic partnerships and acquisitions to expand our business. From time to time, we may have a number of pending investments and acquisitions that are subject to closing conditions. See “Item 4. Information on the Company-A. History and Development of the Company.” There can be no assurance that we will be able to identify, acquire and successfully integrate other businesses and, if necessary, to obtain satisfactory debt or equity financing to fund those acquisitions. See “-We have expanded in the past and expect to continue to expand in the future through acquisitions of other companies, each of which may divert our management’s attention, result in additional dilution to shareholders or use resources that are necessary to operate our business.”
If we fail to manage the growth of our operations effectively, our businesses and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
If we are not successful in expanding our service offerings, we may not achieve our financial goals and our results of operations may be adversely affected.
We have been expanding, and plan to continue to expand, the nature and scope of our service offerings, particularly into the area of managed cloud services, including direct private connection to major cloud platforms , an innovative service platform for managing hybrid clouds and, where required, the resale of public cloud services. The success of our expanded service offerings depends, in part, upon demand for such services by new and existing customers and our ability to meet their demand in a cost-effective manner. We may face a number of challenges in expanding our service offerings, including:
|●||acquiring or developing the necessary expertise in IT;|
|●||maintaining high-quality control and process execution standards;|
|●||maintaining productivity levels and implementing necessary process improvements;|
|●||controlling costs; and|
|●||successfully attracting existing and new customers for new services we develop.|
A failure by us to effectively manage the growth of our service portfolio could damage our reputation, cause us to lose business and adversely affect our results of operations. In addition, because managed cloud services may require significant upfront investment, we expect that continued expansion into these services will reduce our profit margins. In the event that we are unable to successfully grow our service portfolio, we could lose our competitive edge in providing our existing colocation and managed services, since significant time and resources that are devoted to such growth could have been utilized instead to improve and expand our existing colocation and managed services.
Our business requires us to make significant capital expenditures and resource commitments prior to recognizing revenue for those services.
We have a long selling cycle for our services, which typically requires significant investment of capital, human resources and time by both our customers and us. Constructing, developing and operating our data centers require significant capital expenditures. A customer’s decision to utilize our colocation services, our managed solutions or our other services typically involves time-consuming contract negotiations regarding the service level commitments and other terms, and substantial due diligence on the part of the customer regarding the adequacy of our infrastructure and attractiveness of our resources and services. Furthermore, we may expend significant time and resources in pursuing a particular sale or customer, and we do not recognize revenue for our services until such time as the services are provided under the terms of the applicable agreement. Our efforts in pursuing a particular sale or customer may not be successful, and we may not always have sufficient capital on hand to satisfy our working capital needs between the date on which we sign an agreement with a new customer and when we first receive revenue for services delivered to the customer. If our efforts in pursuing sales and customers are unsuccessful, or our cash on hand is insufficient to cover our working capital needs over the course of our long selling cycle, our financial condition could be negatively affected.
The data center business is capital-intensive, and we expect our capacity to generate capital in the short term will be insufficient to meet our anticipated capital requirements.
The costs of constructing, developing and operating data centers are substantial. Further, we may encounter development delays, excess development costs, or delays in developing space for our customers to utilize. We also may not be able to secure suitable land or buildings for new data centers or at a cost on terms acceptable to us. We are required to fund the costs of constructing, developing and operating our data centers with cash retained from operations, as well as from financings from bank and other borrowings. Moreover, the costs of constructing, developing and operating data centers have increased in recent years, and may further increase in the future, which may make it more difficult for us to expand our business and to operate our data centers profitably. Based on our current expansion plans, we do not expect that our net revenue in the short term will be sufficient to offset increases in these costs, or that our business operations in the short term will generate capital sufficient to meet our anticipated capital requirements. If we cannot generate sufficient capital to meet our anticipated capital requirements, our financial condition, business expansion and future prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
Our substantial level of indebtedness could adversely affect our ability to raise additional capital to fund our operations, expose us to interest rate risk to the extent of our variable rate debt and prevent us from meeting our obligations under our indebtedness.
We have substantial indebtedness. As of December 31, 2020, we had total consolidated indebtedness of RMB23,000.9 million (US$3,525.0 million), including borrowings, finance lease and other financing obligations and convertible bonds. Based on our current expansion plans, we expect to continue to finance our operations through the incurrence of debt. Our indebtedness could, among other consequences:
|●||make it more difficult for us to satisfy our obligations under our indebtedness, exposing us to the risk of default, which, in turn, would negatively affect our ability to operate as a going concern;|
|●||require us to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flows from operations to interest and principal payments on our indebtedness, reducing the availability of our cash flows for other purposes, such as capital expenditures, acquisitions and working capital;|
|●||limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and the industries in which we operate;|
|●||increase our vulnerability to general adverse economic and industry conditions;|
|●||place us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors that have less debt;|
|●||expose us to fluctuations in the interest rate environment because the interest rates on borrowings under our project financing agreements are variable;|
|●||increase our cost of borrowing;|
|●||limit our ability to borrow additional funds; and|
|●||require us to sell assets to raise funds, if needed, for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions or other purposes.|
As a result of the covenants and restrictions, we are limited in how we conduct our business, and we may be unable to raise additional debt or equity financing to compete effectively or to take advantage of new business opportunities. Our current or future borrowings could increase the level of financial risk to us and, to the extent that the interest rates are not fixed and rise, or that borrowings are refinanced at higher rates, our available cash flow and results of operations could be adversely affected.
We have financing arrangements in place with various lenders to support specific data center construction projects. Certain of these financing arrangements are secured by share pledge over equity interests of our subsidiaries, our accounts receivable, property and equipment and land use rights. The terms of these financing arrangements may impose covenants and obligations on the part of our borrowing subsidiaries and/or GDS Beijing and its subsidiaries, and our company as guarantor. For example, some of these agreements contain requirements to maintain a specified minimum cash balance at all times or require that the borrowing subsidiary maintain a certain debt-to-equity ratio. We cannot provide any assurances that we will always be able to meet any covenant tests under our financing arrangements. Other loan facility agreements of ours require that STT GDC, one of our major shareholders, maintain (i) an ownership percentage in our company of at least 25%, or (ii) have the power (whether by way of ownership of shares, proxy, contract, agency or otherwise) to control the casting of, at least 25% of the votes that may be cast at a meeting of the board of directors (or similar governing body) of our company, or (iii) its status as the single largest shareholder of our company. If any of the abovementioned conditions were not maintained, pursuant to the terms of relevant facility agreements we could be obligated to notify the lender or repay any loans outstanding immediately or on an accelerated repayment schedule. In addition, the majority of our loan facility agreements require that the IDC license of GDS Beijing or the borrowing subsidiaries, other affiliated entities or the authorization by GDS Beijing to one such subsidiary to operate the data center business and provide IDC services under the auspices of the IDC license held by GDS Beijing, be maintained and renewed on or before the expiry date of the IDC license or authorization thereunder, as applicable. However, we have learned that the MIIT will not allow subsidiaries authorized to provide IDC services by an IDC license holder to renew its current authorization in the future; instead, the MIIT will require subsidiaries of IDC license holders to apply for their own IDC licenses. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China—We may be regarded as being non-compliant with the regulations on VATS due to the lack of IDC licenses for which penalties may be assessed that may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, growth strategies and prospects.” If the subsidiaries of GDS Beijing cannot renew their authorizations to provide IDC services under the auspices of GDS Beijing’s IDC license timely, and such subsidiaries cannot apply for and obtain their own IDC licenses, we also could be obligated to notify the lender or repay any loans outstanding immediately or on an accelerated repayment schedule.
In May 2019, one of GDS Beijing’s subsidiaries, GDS Suzhou, obtained its own IDC license. In September and November 2019, the other two of GDS Beijing’s subsidiaries, Beijing Wan Chang Yun Science & Technology Co., Ltd., or Beijing Wan Chang Yun, and Shenzhen Yaode Data Services Co., Ltd., or Shenzhen Yaode obtained their own IDC license respectively. Other subsidiaries of our VIEs plan to apply for their own IDC licenses in order to continue to maintain authorizations to provide IDC services. While we do not foresee any legal impediment based on our experience with IDC license applications, there can be no assurance that these subsidiaries will be able to obtain approvals from the MIIT for their own IDC licenses in a timely manner or at all, or obtain such approvals for an expansion of authorization by GDS Beijing to allow the other subsidiaries of our VIEs to provide IDC services under the auspices of GDS Beijing’s IDC license. There also can be no assurance that we will be able to renew such authorizations and expansions in due course.
The terms of any future indebtedness we may incur could include more restrictive covenants. A breach of any of these covenants could result in a default with respect to the related indebtedness. If a default occurs, the relevant lenders could elect to declare the indebtedness, together with accrued interest and other fees, to be due and payable immediately. This, in turn, could cause our other debt, to become due and payable as a result of cross-default or acceleration provisions contained in the agreements governing such other debt. In the event that some or all of our debt is accelerated and becomes immediately due and payable, we may not have the funds to repay, or the ability to refinance, such debt.
In mid-August 2019, the PBOC decided to reform the formation mechanism of the Loan Prime Rate, or LPR, and authorized the National Interbank Funding Center to release LPR monthly, which may impact the interest rate on our variable rate debt. Uncertainty on future LPR reforms and rate changes may impact our indebtedness.
We will likely require additional capital to meet our future capital needs, which may adversely affect our financial position and result in additional shareholder dilution.
To grow our operations, we will be required to commit a substantial amount of operating and financial resources. Our planned capital expenditures, together with our ongoing operating expenses, will cause substantial cash outflows. In the near term, we will likely be unable to fund our expansion plans solely through our operating cash flows. Accordingly, we will likely need to raise additional funds through equity, equity-linked or debt financings in the future in order to meet our operating and capital needs. In this regard, at our annual general meeting, or AGM, held on August 6, 2020, our shareholders passed ordinary resolutions authorizing our board of directors to approve the allotment or issuance, in the 12-month period from the date of the AGM, of ordinary shares or other equity or equity-linked securities of our company up to an aggregate twenty percent (20%) of our existing issued share capital at the date of the AGM, whether in a single transaction or a series of transactions (other than any allotment or issues of shares on the exercise of any options that have been granted by our company). Additional debt or equity financing may not be available when needed or, if available, may not be available on satisfactory terms. In connection with our ongoing development and operation of hyperscale B-O-T joint venture data centers at locations in China selected by our customers, we will need to raise additional capital, either from our joint venture partners, through the equity and debt capital markets, bank loans or otherwise, and we may be unable to do so on terms acceptable to us or at all. Our inability to obtain additional debt and/or equity financing or to generate sufficient cash from operations may require us to prioritize projects or curtail capital expenditures and could adversely affect our results of operations.
If we raise additional funds through further issuances of equity or equity-linked securities, our existing shareholders could suffer significant dilution in their percentage ownership of our company, and any new equity securities we issue could have rights, preferences and privileges senior to those of the holders of our ordinary shares. In addition, any debt financing that we may obtain in the future could have restrictive covenants relating to our capital raising activities and other financial and operational matters, which may make it more difficult for us to obtain additional capital and to pursue business opportunities, including potential acquisitions.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Beginning in early 2020, there was an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus, later named COVID-19. In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. As part of its efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, from time to time the PRC government has taken and may continue to take a number of actions, including quarantining and otherwise treating individuals in China who are infected with COVID-19, asking residents to remain at home and to avoid public gatherings, among other actions. COVID-19 has resulted in temporary closures of many corporate offices, retail stores, and manufacturing facilities and factories across China. Most of our revenues are generated in and our workforce are located in China. Consequently, our business could be materially and adversely impacted by the effects of COVID-19 or other pandemics or epidemics.
The construction of new data centers or the expansion of existing data centers might be significantly delayed because of temporary closures of our construction sites and shortages of workers due to travel restrictions that have been or may be imposed in China. The completion of pending acquisitions of data centers might also be delayed or suffer other adverse impacts due to the impact of COVID-19. If the construction of new data centers, the expansion of existing data centers, or the completion of our pending acquisitions of data centers cannot be completed or delivered on time, we may be unable to meet our customer demand as expected, which may adversely and materially affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. Business distributions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may also adversely and materially affect the business operations and financial condition of many of our customers, especially those that are small and medium-sized enterprises. Any prolonged disruption of our businesses or those of our customers or business partners could negatively impact our results of operations and financial condition. We have experienced slower cash collection as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, for administrative reasons unrelated to our customers’ ability to pay, which has resulted in an increase in our accounts receivable. An increase in our accounts receivable and any decrease in our recovery rate on accounts receivable could impact our cash flow, increase our need to fund operations from other sources of capital and impact our operations and business. Our customers may encounter cash flow or operating difficulties, which may reduce their demand for our services, further delay their payments to us thereby increasing our accounts receivable turnover days, or even increase the risk that they may default on their payment obligations. Any of these events would negatively affect our operating results. In response to the pandemic, we temporarily suspended our offline customer acquisition activities and business travel to ensure the safety and health of our employees. The measures we took or are taking may reduce our business operation capacity and are likely to negatively affect our operating results.
In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that this pandemic harms the Chinese economy or global economy in general. The costs of constructing, developing and operating data centers are substantial. See “—The data center business is capital-intensive, and we expect our capacity to generate capital in the short term will be insufficient to meet our anticipated capital requirements.” Expanding our data center capacity and growing our business requires substantial amounts of capital. If our existing cash resources are insufficient to meet our needs to expand our data center capacity and grow our business, we may seek to raise capital by selling equity or equity-linked securities, debt securities or by arranging financing and incurring indebtedness through borrowing from banks. Any economic slowdown in China or worldwide due to COVID-19 may result in a shortage of available credit and insufficient funds for our future expansion or growth, and we may not be able to raise additional capital, obtain additional financing from banks or other financial institutions, or draw down our existing loans and financing facilities. We cannot assure you that financing will be available in the amounts we need or on terms acceptable to us, if at all. If we were unable to obtain additional equity or debt financing as required, our business, operations and prospects and our ability to maintain our desired level of revenue growth may suffer materially. This in turn could limit our capital expenditures and cause our revenues to decrease, and our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected as a result.
While many of the restrictions on movements within China have been relaxed, there is great uncertainty around the future of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it will impact our operations in Mainland China and in Hong Kong. In particular, we cannot accurately forecast the potential impact of additional outbreaks as government restrictions are relaxed, further shelter-in-place or other government restrictions implemented in response to such outbreaks, or the impact on the ability of our customers to remain in business as a result of the ongoing pandemic or such additional outbreaks. With the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak , including the availability of effective vaccines or cure, the threat to our business disruption and the related financial impact remains.
If we fail to manage effectively or collect our accounts receivable, our results of operations, financial condition and liquidity may be adversely affected.
As of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, our accounts receivable, net, amounted to RMB536.8 million, RMB880.0 million and RMB1,480.3 million (US$226.9 million). Our accounts receivable turnover days, which are the average accounts receivable balances as of the beginning and the end of the period divided by total net revenues during the period and multiplied by the number of days during the period, were relatively stable at 58.9 days in 2018 and 62.7 days in 2019. However, our accounts receivable turnover days increased to 75.3 days in 2020, as a higher proportion of our contracts were billed quarterly in arrears as opposed to monthly in arrears. In addition, we experienced slower cash collection for administrative reasons as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, unrelated to our customers’ ability to pay.
The amount and turnover days of our accounts receivable may increase in the future, which will make it more challenging for us to manage our working capital effectively and our results of operations, financial conditions and liquidity may be adversely affected.
We had net current liabilities as of December 31, 2018 and we may experience net current liabilities again in the future.
Having net current liabilities could constrain our operational flexibility and affect our ability to expand our business. We expect to continue to rely upon a combination of cash retained from operations as well as the financing methods we have historically used to fund our expansion. If we do not generate sufficient cash flow from our operations to meet our present and future financial needs, we may need to rely on additional external equity capital and debt financing for funding. If adequate funds are not available, whether on satisfactory terms or at all, we may be forced to delay or abandon our development and expansion plans, and our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. As of December 31, 2018, we had net current liabilities of RMB470.5 million. We may record net current liabilities in the future if we fail to maintain current assets at a level that exceeds current liabilities. If we have significant net current liabilities for an extended period of time, our working capital for purposes of our operations may be subject to constraints, which may materially adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Increased power costs and limited availability of power resources, together with stringent regulatory requirements or restrictions on data center development, may adversely affect our results of operations.
We are a large consumer of power and costs of power account for a significant portion of our cost of revenue. We require power supply to provide many services we offer, such as powering and cooling our customers’ servers and network equipment and operating critical data center plant and equipment infrastructure. Since we rely on two suppliers, State Grid and Southern Grid, each of which has a monopoly in its area of operation, to provide our data centers with power, our data centers could have limited or inadequate access to power.
More stringent requirements or restrictions imposed by local authorities in the Tier 1 markets as to energy conservation or industrial policies may also limit our ability to obtain the regulatory approvals for the development and operation of data centers, which are essential for us to obtain power supply and expand our business. For example, the Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality, or Shenzhen DRC, issued regulations in the first half of 2017 to tighten the requirements for energy conservation review of fixed-asset investment projects for data centers by requiring all such projects to obtain an energy conservation review opinion from Shenzhen DRC regardless of the amount of their energy consumption and conditioning its approval of power supply applications on the receipt of such energy conservation review opinion. In September 2018, the General Office of the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality issued the Beijing Municipality’s Catalogue for the Prohibition and Restriction of Newly Increased Industries (2018 Edition) to strictly control new construction or expansion of data centers in Beijing. In January 2019, the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization and the Shanghai Municipal Development and Reform Commission jointly published their Guideline Opinion on Coordinated Construction of Internet Data Centers in Shanghai to control the aggregate number of newly increased IDC racks from 2019 to 2020 in Shanghai. In April 2019, the Shenzhen DRC published a Notice on the Relevant Matters of Energy Conservation Examination for Data Centers to strictly control the newly increased amount of annual comprehensive energy consumption of data centers. In November 2020, the General Office of the People’s Government of Guangdong Province issued the Three-year Implementation Plan (2020-2022) on Promotion of the Construction of New Infrastructures in Guangdong Province, pursuant to which the average designed PUE of data centers in Guangdong Province should be lower than 1.3 as of the year 2022. In January 2021, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology published the Implementation Plan on Coordinated Development of Data Centers in Beijing (Exposure Draft), to stipulate lower PUE and other energy conservation requirements applicable to upgrade of existing data centers and new construction of data centers in Beijing. Failure to meet the evolving requirements, new restrictions imposed on our expansion, and lack of regulatory approvals could have a material and adverse effect on our business and expected growth. See “—Our business operations are extensively impacted by the policies and regulations of the PRC government. Any policy or regulatory change may cause us to incur significant compliance costs.”
The amount of power required by our customers may increase as they adopt new technologies, for example, for virtualization of hardware resources and for specialized processing of artificial intelligence. As a result, the average amount of power utilized per server is increasing, which in turn increases power consumption required to cool the data center facilities. Pursuant to our colocation service agreements, we provide our customers with a committed level of power supply availability. Although we aim to improve the energy efficiency of the data center facilities that we operate, there can be no assurance such data center facilities will be able to provide sufficient power to meet the growing needs of our customers. Our customers’ demand for power may exceed the power capacity in our older data centers, which may limit our ability to fully utilize the net floor area of these data centers. We may lose customers or our customers may reduce the services purchased from us due to increased power costs, and limited availability of power resources, or we may incur costs for data center capacity which we cannot utilize, which would reduce our net revenue and have a material and adverse effect on our cost of revenue and results of operations.
We attempt to manage our power resources and limit exposure to system downtime due to power outages from the electric grid by having redundant power feeds from the grid and by using backup generators and battery power. However, these protections may not limit our exposure to power shortages or outages entirely. Any system downtime resulting from insufficient power resources or power outages could damage our reputation and lead us to lose current and potential customers, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have a history of net losses and negative cash flows from operating activities and may continue to incur losses and experience negative cash flows from operating activities in the future.
We incurred net losses of RMB430.3 million, RMB442.1 million and RMB669.2 million (US$102.6 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, and we may incur losses in the future. We had cash used in operating activities of RMB12.9 million in 2018. We expect our costs and expenses to increase as we expand our operations, primarily including costs and expenses associated with owning and leasing data center capacity, increasing our headcount and utility expenses. Our ability to achieve and maintain profitability depends on the continued growth and maintenance of our customer base, our ability to control our costs and expenses, the expansion of our service offerings and our ability to provide our services at the level needed to satisfy the stringent demands of our customers. In addition, our ability to achieve profitability is affected by many factors which are beyond our control, such as the overall demand for data center services in China and general economic conditions. If we cannot efficiently manage the data center facilities we operate, our financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. We may continue to incur losses in the future due to our continued investments in data center capacity, increased headcount and increased utility expenses.
The data center business is capital-intensive. Constructing, developing and operating our data centers require significant capital expenditures. We need to fund these costs with various forms of financing, in addition to cash retained from operations. We have historically funded data center development through additional equity or debt financing. We expect to continue to fund future developments through debt financing or through the issuance of additional equity securities if necessary and when market conditions permit. If we are unable to secure such additional financing, it will have a material adverse effect on our business and we may have to limit operations in a manner inconsistent with our development plans. If additional funds are raised through the issuance of equity securities or convertible debt securities, it will be dilutive to our shareholders and could result in a decrease in our stock price. In addition, if there are other factors that negatively impact our cash flow, such as the credit risk associated with accounts receivable or the ability to recover VAT on a timely basis, our cash flow and ability to fund our operations and capital expenditures would be negatively affected. If we are unable to obtain requisite financing needed to fund our planned operations and expansion, it would have a material adverse effect on our business.
Any significant or prolonged failure in the data center facilities we operate or services we provide would lead to significant costs and disruptions and would reduce our net revenue, harm our business reputation and have a material adverse effect on our results of operation.
The data center facilities we operate are subject to failure. Any significant or prolonged failure in any data center facility we operate or services that we provide, including a breakdown in critical plant, equipment or services, such as the cooling equipment, generators, backup batteries, routers, switches, or other equipment, power supplies, or network connectivity, whether or not within our control, could result in service interruptions and data losses for our customers as well as equipment damage, which could significantly disrupt the normal business operations of our customers and harm our reputation and reduce our net revenue. Any failure or downtime in one of the data center facilities that we operate could affect many of our customers. The total destruction or severe impairment of any of the data center facilities we operate could result in significant downtime of our services and catastrophic loss of customer data. Since our ability to attract and retain customers depends on our ability to provide highly reliable service, even minor interruptions in our service could harm our reputation and cause us to incur financial penalties. The services we provide are subject to failures resulting from numerous factors, including:
|●||human error or accidents;|
|●||theft, sabotage and vandalism;|
|●||failure by us or our suppliers to provide adequate service or maintenance to our equipment;|
|●||network connectivity downtime and fiber cuts;|
|●||security breaches to our infrastructure;|
|●||improper building maintenance by us or by the landlords of the data center buildings which we lease;|
|●||physical, electronic and cyber security breaches;|
|●||fires and fire hazards, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood and other natural disasters;|
|●||public health emergencies; and|
We have in the past experienced, and may in the future experience, interruptions in service due to power outages or other technical failures or for reasons outside of our control, including a service interruption that caused system downtime to certain banking and financial institution customers and other customers. These interruptions in service, regardless of whether they result in breaches of the service level agreements we have with customers, may negatively affect our relationships with customers, including resulting in customers terminating their agreements with us or seeking damages from us or other compensatory actions. Interruptions in service may also have consequences for customers, such as banking and financial institutions, that are under the oversight of industry regulators, including the CBIRC and other PRC regulatory agencies. In response to such interruptions in service, industry regulators have taken, and may in the future take, various regulatory actions, including notifications or citations to our customers, over which they have oversight. Such regulatory actions with respect to our customers, including banking and financial institutions, could negatively impact our relationships with such customers, lead to audits of our services, inspections of our facilities, place restrictions or prohibitions upon the ability of such institutions to use our services, and thereby negatively affect our business operations and results of operations. We have taken and continue to take steps to improve our infrastructure to prevent service interruptions, including upgrading our electrical and mechanical infrastructure and sourcing, designing the best facilities possible and implementing rigorous operational procedures to maintenance programs to manage risk. However, we cannot assure you that such interruptions in service will not occur again in the future, or that such incidents will not result in the loss of customers and revenue, our paying compensation to customers, reputational damage to us, penalties or fines against us, and would not have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulatory Matters—Regulations Related to Information Technology Outsourcing Services Provided to Banking Financial Institutions.” Service interruptions continue to be a significant risk for us and could affect our reputation, damage our relationships with customers and materially and adversely affect our business.
Delays in the construction of new data centers or the expansion of existing data centers could involve significant risks to our business.
In order to meet customer demand and the continued growth of our business, we need to expand existing data centers, lease buildings for conversion into new data center facilities or obtain suitable land to build new data centers. Expansion of existing data centers and/or construction of new data centers are currently underway or being contemplated and such expansion and/or construction require us to carefully select and rely on the experience of one or more designers, general contractors, and subcontractors during the design and construction process. If a designer or contractor experiences financial or other problems during the design or construction process, we could experience significant delays and/or incur increased costs to complete the projects, resulting in negative impacts on our results of operations.
In addition, we need to work closely with the local power suppliers, and sometimes local governments, where our proposed data centers are located. Delays in actions that require the assistance of such third parties, or delays in receiving required permits and approvals from such parties, may also affect the speed with which we complete data center projects or result in their not being completed at all. We have experienced such delays in receiving approvals and permits or in actions to be taken by third parties in the past and may experience them again in the future.
If we experience significant delays in the supply of power required to support the data center expansion or new construction, either during the design or construction phases, the progress of the data center expansion and/or construction could deviate from our original plans, which could , among others, result in liability for penalties and loss of customers, and cause material and negative effect to our revenue growth, profitability and results of operations.
The occurrence of a catastrophic event or a prolonged disruption may exceed our insurance coverage by significant amounts.
Our operations are subject to hazards and risks normally associated with the daily operations of our data center facilities. Currently, we maintain insurance policies in nine categories: construction and installation, work interruption expense due to public health event, business interruption for lost profits, property and casualty, public liability, cyber security liability, directors and officers liability, employer liability and commercial employee insurance. Our business interruption insurance for lost profits includes coverage for business interruptions, our property and casualty insurance includes coverage for equipment breakdowns and our commercial employee insurance includes employee group insurance and senior management medical insurance. We believe our insurance coverage adequately covers the risks of our daily business operations. However, our current insurance policies may be insufficient in the event of a prolonged or catastrophic event. The occurrence of any such event that is not entirely covered by our insurance policies may result in interruption of our operations and subject us to significant losses or liabilities and damage our reputation as a provider of business continuity services. In addition, any losses or liabilities that are not covered by our current insurance policies may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may be vulnerable to security breaches which could disrupt our operations and have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
A party who is able to compromise the security measures protecting the data center facilities we operate or any of the data stored in such data center facilities could misappropriate our or our customers’ proprietary information or cause interruptions or malfunctions in our operations. As we provide assurances to our customers that we provide the highest level of security, such a compromise could be particularly harmful to our brand and reputation. We may be required to expend significant capital and resources to protect against such threats or to alleviate problems caused by breaches in security. In addition, as we continue expanding our service offerings in managed cloud services, including direct private connection to major cloud platforms and the provision of cloud infrastructure, we will face greater risks from potential attacks because the provision of cloud-related services will increase the flow of internet user data through the data center facilities we operate and create broader public access to our system. As techniques used to breach security change frequently and are often not recognized until launched against a target, we may not be able to implement new security measures in a timely manner or, if and when implemented, we may not be certain whether these measures could be circumvented. Any breaches that may occur could expose us to increased risk of lawsuits, regulatory penalties, loss of existing or potential customers, harm to our reputation and increases in our security costs, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Security risks and deficiencies may also be identified in the course of government inspections, which could subject us to fines and other sanctions. During construction of certain of our facilities, government inspectors have cited security risks at our construction sites and subjected us and our legal representative to fines for such risks. We cannot assure you that similar fines and sanctions will not occur in the future, or that such fines and sanctions will not result in damage to our business and reputation, which could have a material and adverse effect on our results of operations.
In addition, any assertions of alleged security breaches or systems failure made against us, whether true or not, could harm our reputation, cause us to incur substantial legal fees and have a material adverse effect on our business, reputation, financial condition and results of operations.
Our ability to provide data center services depends on the major telecommunications carriers in China providing sufficient network services to our customers in the data center facilities that we operate on commercially acceptable terms.
Our ability to provide data center services depends on the major telecommunications carriers in China, namely China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, providing sufficient network connectivity and capacity to enable our customers to transfer data to and from equipment that they locate in the data center facilities that we operate. Furthermore, given the limited competition among basic service providers in the telecommunications market in China, we depend on the dominant carrier in each location to provide such services to our customers on commercially acceptable terms. Although we believe we have maintained good relationships with China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile in the past, there can be no assurance that they will continue to provide the network services that our customers require on commercially acceptable terms at each of the data centers where we operate, if at all. In addition, if China Telecom, China Unicom or China Mobile increases the price of their network services, it would have a negative impact on the overall cost-effectiveness of data center services in China, which could cause our customers’ demand for our services to decline and would materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Our leases for self-developed data centers or our agreements for third-party data centers could be terminated early and we may not be able to renew our existing leases and agreements on commercially acceptable terms or our rent or payment under the agreements could increase substantially in the future, which could materially and adversely affect our operations.
Most of our self-developed data centers are located in properties that we hold under long-term leases. Such leases generally have 15 to 20-year terms from inception. In some instances, we may negotiate an option to purchase the leased premises and facilities or a right of first refusal for the renewal of the existing leases according to the terms and conditions under the relevant lease agreements. However, upon the expiration of such leases, we may not be able to renew these leases on commercially reasonable terms, if at all. Under certain lease agreements, the lessor may terminate the agreement by giving prior notice and paying default penalties to us. However, such default penalties may not be sufficient to cover our losses. Even though the lessors for most of our data centers generally do not have the right of unilateral early termination unless they provide the required notice, the lease may nonetheless be terminated early if we are in material breach of the lease agreements. We may assert claims for compensation against the landlords if they elect to terminate a lease agreement early and without due cause. If the leases for our data centers were terminated early prior to their expiration date, notwithstanding any compensation we may receive for early termination of such leases, or if we are not able to renew such leases, we may have to incur significant cost related to relocation. In addition, we have entered into five agreements in respect of data centers in operation with parties who have not produced evidence of proper legal title of the premises, and although we may seek damages from such parties, such leases may be void and we may be forced to relocate. The five agreements are in relation to eight leased data centers which collectively accounted for approximately 4.1%, 5.7% and 8.2% of our revenues in the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, and approximately 10.3%, 8.9% and 8.6% of total area committed as of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Except for one data center, which accounted for 1.8%, 0.9%, and 0.9% of net revenues in the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and 0.5%, 0.4% and 0.2% of total area committed as of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, the owners of the premises for the seven other data centers have confirmed such property ownership certificates are in the process of being obtained without any foreseen legal or regulatory difficulties; in addition, as advised by our PRC legal counsel, as the owners have obtained relevant construction planning permits with regard to the construction of the premises, the relevant leases will be deemed valid and effective by a court in case of any dispute. Ten of our data centers are located in properties that were already mortgaged to third parties before the commencement of the lease. If such third parties claim their rights on the mortgaged properties in case of default or breach under the principal debt by the lessors or other relevant parties, we may not be able to protect our leasehold interest and may be ordered to vacate the affected premises. Any relocation could also affect our ability to provide continuous uninterrupted services to our customers and harm our reputation. As a result, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, certain portions of our data center operations are located in third-party data centers that we lease from wholesale data center providers. Our agreements with third parties are typically five years but may also be up to ten years. Under some of such agreements, we have the right of first refusal to renew the agreements subject to mutual agreement with the third parties. Some of such agreements allow the third parties to terminate the agreements early, subject to a notification period requirement and the payment of a pre-determined termination fee, which in some cases may not be sufficient to cover any direct and indirect losses we might incur as a result. Although historically we have successfully renewed all agreements we wanted to renew, and we do not believe that any of our agreements will be terminated early in the future, there can be no assurance that the counterparties will not terminate any of our agreements prior to its expiration date. We plan to renew our existing agreements with third parties upon expiration or migrate our operations to the data centers leased or owned by our company. However, we may not be able to renew these agreements on commercially acceptable terms, if at all, or the space in data centers that we lease or own may not be adequate for us to relocate such operations, and we may experience an increase in our payments under such agreements. Any adverse change to our ability to exert operational control over any of the data center facilities we operate could have a material adverse effect on our ability to operate these data center facilities at the standards required for us to meet our service level commitments to our customers.
We generate significant revenue from data centers located in only a few locations and a significant disruption to any location could materially and adversely affect our operations.
We generate significant revenue from data centers located in only a few locations and a significant disruption to any single location could materially and adversely affect our operations. As of March 31, 2021, most of our data centers (self-developed and third-party) were located in our Tier 1 markets. Furthermore, several of our data centers are located on campuses or clusters in close proximity to each other in specific districts within our Tier 1 markets. The occurrence of a catastrophic event, or a prolonged disruption in any of these regions, could materially and adversely affect our operations.
Our net revenue is highly dependent on a limited number of customers, and the loss of, or any significant decrease in business from, any one or more of our major customers could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We consider our customers to be the end users of our services. We may enter into agreements directly with our customers or provide services to our customers through agreements with intermediate contracting parties. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Our Customers.”
We have in the past derived, and believe that we will continue to derive, a significant portion of our net revenue from a limited number of customers. We had two customers that generated 27.0% and 17.4% of our total net revenue, respectively, in 2018, three customers that generated 27.2%, 19.1% and 10.8% of our total net revenue, respectively, in 2019, and two customers that generated 26.3% and 20.5% of our total net revenue, respectively, in 2020. No other customer accounted for 10% or more of our total net revenue during those periods. We expect our net revenue will continue to be highly dependent on a limited number of customers who account for a large percentage of our total area committed. As of December 31, 2020, we had two customers who accounted for 35.8% and 22.3%, respectively, of our total area committed (excluding B-O-T joint venture data centers). No other customer accounted for 10% or more of our total area committed (excluding B-O-T joint venture data centers). Moreover, for several of our data centers, a limited number of customers accounted for or are expected to account for a substantial majority of area committed or area utilized, including some cases where a single customer accounted for all area committed or area utilized. If there are delays in the move-in, whereby the net floor area they are committed to is not utilized as expected, or there is contract termination in relation to these customers, then our net revenue and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.
There are a number of factors that could cause us to lose major customers. Because many of our agreements involve services that are mission-critical to our customers, any failure by us to meet a customer’s expectations could result in cancellation or non-renewal of the agreement. Our service agreements usually allow our customers to terminate their agreements with us before the end of the contract period under certain specified circumstances, including our failure to deliver services as required under such agreements, and in some cases without cause as long as sufficient notice is given. In addition, our customers may decide to reduce spending on our services due to a challenging economic environment or other factors, both internal and external, relating to their business such as corporate restructuring or changing their outsourcing strategy by moving more facilities in-house or outsourcing to other service providers. Furthermore, our customers, some of whom have experienced rapid changes in their business, substantial price competition and pressures on their profitability, may demand price reductions or reduce the scope of services to be provided by us, any of which could reduce our profitability. In addition, our reliance on any individual customer for a significant portion of our net revenue may give that customer a degree of pricing leverage against us when negotiating agreements and terms of services with us.
The loss of any of our major customers, or a significant decrease in the extent of the services that they outsource to us or the price at which we sell our services to them, could materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
If we are unable to meet our service level commitments, our reputation and results of operation could suffer.
Most of our customer agreements provide that we maintain certain service level commitments to our customers. If we fail to meet our service level commitments, we may be contractually obligated to pay the affected customer a financial penalty, which varies by agreement, and the customer may in some cases be able to terminate its agreement. Although we have not had to pay any material financial penalties for failing to meet our service level commitments in the past, there is no assurance that we will be able to meet all of our service level commitments in the future and that no material financial penalties may be imposed. In addition, if such a failure were to occur, there can be no assurance that our customers will not seek other legal remedies that may be available to them, including:
|●||requiring us to provide free services;|
|●||seeking damages for losses incurred; and|
|●||cancelling or electing not to renew their agreements.|
Any of these events could materially increase our expenses or reduce our net revenue, which would have a material adverse effect on our reputation and results of operations. Our failure to meet our commitments could also result in substantial customer dissatisfaction or loss. As a result of such customer loss and other potential liabilities, our net revenue and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Our customer base may decline if our customers or potential customers develop their own data centers or expand their own existing data centers.
Some of our customers may develop their own data center facilities. Other customers with their own existing data centers may choose to expand their data center operations in the future. In the event that any of our key customers were to develop or expand their data centers, we may lose business or face pressure as to the pricing of our services. Although we believe that the trend is for companies in China to outsource more of their data center facilities and operations to colocation data center service providers, there can be no assurance that this trend will continue. In addition, if we fail to offer services that are cost-competitive and operationally advantageous as compared with services provided in-house by our customers, we may lose customers or fail to attract new customers. If we lose a customer, there is no assurance that we would be able to replace that customer at the same or a higher rate, or at all, and our business and results of operations would suffer.
We may be unable to achieve high agreement renewal rates.
We seek to renew customer agreements when those agreements are due for renewal. We endeavor to provide high levels of customer service, support, and satisfaction to maintain long-term customer relationships and to secure high rates of agreement renewals for our services. Nevertheless, we cannot assure you that we will be able to renew service agreements with our existing customers or re-commit space relating to expired service agreements to new customers if our current customers do not renew their agreements. In the event of a customer’s termination or non-renewal of expired agreements, or a renewal of an expired agreement for fewer services or less area than it had previously utilized, our ability to enter into services agreements so that new or other existing customers utilize the expired existing space in a timely manner will impact our results of operations. If such expired existing space is not utilized by new or other existing customers in a timely manner, our service revenue and results of operations may be negatively impacted. Our quarterly churn rate, which we define as the ratio of quarterly service revenue from agreements which terminated or expired without renewal during the quarter to the total quarterly service revenue for the preceding quarter, averaged 0.9%, 0.5% and 0.8% in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. During 2021, data center service agreements with our customers with respect to 7.4% of our total area committed (excluding B-O-T joint venture data centers) as of December 31, 2020 will become due for renewal.
If we do not succeed in attracting new customers for our services and/or growing revenue from existing customers, we may not achieve our revenue growth goals.
We have been expanding our customer base to cover a range of industry verticals, particularly cloud service providers and other internet-based businesses. Our ability to attract new customers, as well as our ability to grow revenue from our existing customers, depends on a number of factors, including our ability to offer high-quality services at competitive prices, the strength of our competitors and the capabilities of our marketing and sales teams to attract new customers. If we fail to attract new customers, we may not be able to grow our net revenue as quickly as we anticipate or at all.
As our customer base grows and diversifies into other industries, we may be unable to provide customers with services that meet the specific demand of such customers or their industries, or with quality customer support, which could result in customer dissatisfaction, decreased overall demand for our services and loss of expected revenue. In addition, our inability to meet customer service expectations may damage our reputation and could consequently limit our ability to retain existing customers and attract new customers, which would adversely affect our ability to generate revenue and negatively impact our results of operations.
Customers who rely on us for the colocation of their servers, the infrastructure of their cloud systems, and management of their IT and cloud operations could potentially sue us for their lost profits or damages if there are disruptions in our services, which could impair our financial condition.
As our services are critical to many of our customers’ business operations, any significant disruption in our services could result in lost profits or other indirect or consequential damages to our customers. Although our customer agreements typically contain provisions attempting to limit our liability for breach of the agreement, including failing to meet our service level commitments, there can be no assurance that a court would enforce any contractual limitations on our liability in the event that one of our customers brings a lawsuit against us as the result of a service interruption that they may ascribe to us. The outcome of any such lawsuit would depend on the specific facts of the case and any legal and policy considerations that we may not be able to mitigate. In such cases, we could be liable for substantial damage awards. Since we do not carry liability insurance coverage, such damage awards could seriously impair our financial condition.
Our customers operate in a limited number of industries, particularly in the cloud services, internet and financial services industries. Factors that adversely affect these industries or information technology spending in these industries may adversely affect our business.
Our customers operate in a limited number of industries, particularly in the cloud services, internet and financial services industries. As of December 31, 2020, customers from the cloud services, internet and financial services industries accounted for 76.7%, 14.1% and 5.0% of our total area committed (excluding B-O-T joint venture data centers), respectively. Our business and growth depend on continued demand for our services from our current and potential customers in the cloud services, internet and financial services industries. Demand for our services, and technology services in general, in any particular industry could be affected by multiple factors outside of our control, including a decrease in growth or growth prospects of the industry, a slowdown or reversal of the trend to outsource information technology operations, or consolidation in the industry. In addition, serving a major customer within a particular industry may effectively preclude us from seeking or obtaining engagements with direct competitors of that customer if there is a perceived conflict of interest. Any significant decrease in demand for our services by customers in these industries, or other industries from which we derive significant net revenue in the future, may reduce the demand for our services.
We enter into fixed-price agreements with many customers, and our failure to accurately estimate the resources and time required for the fulfillment of our obligations under these agreements could negatively affect our results of operations.
Our data center services are generally provided on a fixed-price basis that requires us to undertake significant projections and planning related to resource utilization and costs. Although our past project experience helps to reduce the risks associated with estimating, planning and performing fixed-price agreements, we bear the risk of failing to accurately estimate our projected costs, including power costs as we may not accurately predict our customer’s ultimate power usage once the agreement is implemented, and failing to efficiently utilize our resources to deliver our services, and there can be no assurance that we will be able to reduce the risk of estimating, planning and performing our agreements. Any failure to accurately estimate the resources and time required for a project, or any other factors that may impact our costs, could adversely affect our profitability and results of operations.
Our customer agreement commitments are subject to reduction and potential cancellation.
Many of our customer agreements allow for early termination, subject to payment of specified costs and penalties, which are usually less than the revenues we would expect to receive under such agreements. Our customer agreement commitments could significantly decrease if any of the customer agreements is terminated either pursuant to, or in violation of, the terms of such agreement. In addition, our customer agreement commitments during a particular future period may be reduced for reasons outside of our customers’ control, such as general prevailing economic conditions. It is difficult to predict how market forces, or PRC or U.S. government policies, in particular, the severe and continued deterioration of bilateral relations between the PRC and the U.S., may continue to impact the PRC economy as well as related demand for our colocation and managed services going forward. See “Geopolitical tensions have led to a heightened trend towards trade, technology and even finance “de-coupling” between China and the United States and this adverse trend may continue to deteriorate, which could negatively affect our business operations and results of operations.” If our customer agreement commitments are significantly reduced, our results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Even if our current and future customers have entered into a binding agreement with us, they may choose to terminate such agreement prior to the expiration of its terms. Any penalty for early termination may not adequately compensate us for the time and resources we have expended in connection with such agreement, or at all, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and cash flows.
We may not be able to compete effectively against our current and future competitors.
We offer a broad range of data center services and, as a result, we may compete with a wide range of data center service providers for some or all of the services we offer. Policies recently promoted by the PRC government concerning the concept of “new infrastructure” may encourage and result in a new wave of investment in, among other things, largescale data centers, artificial intelligence and industrial internet at all levels of the economy. Accordingly, there may be an increase in the number of companies engaging in the data center services business due to the numerous opportunities presented by such policies, which may result in increased competition in our industry.
We face competition from the state-owned telecommunications carriers, namely China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, as well as other domestic and international carrier-neutral data center service providers. Our current and future competitors may vary by size and service offerings and geographic presence. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Competition.”
Competition is primarily centered on reputation and track record, quality and availability of data center capacity, quality of service, technical expertise, security, reliability, functionality, breadth and depth of services offered, geographic coverage, financial strength and price. Some of our current and future competitors may have greater brand recognition, marketing, technical and financial resources than we do. As a result, some of our competitors may be able to:
|●||bundle colocation services with other services or equipment they provide at reduced prices;|
|●||develop superior products or services, gain greater market acceptance, and expand their service offerings more efficiently or rapidly;|
|●||adapt to new or emerging technologies and changes in customer requirements more quickly;|
|●||take advantage of acquisition and other opportunities more readily; and|
|●||adopt more aggressive pricing policies and devote greater resources to the promotion, marketing and sales of their services.|
We operate in a competitive market, and we face pricing pressure for our services. Prices for our services are affected by a variety of factors, including supply and demand conditions and pricing pressures from our competitors. Although we offer a broad range of data center services, our competitors that specialize in only one of our services offerings may have competitive advantages in that offering. With respect to all of our colocation services, our competitors may offer such services at rates below current market rates or below the rates we currently charge our customers. With respect to both our colocation and managed services offerings, our competitors may offer services in a greater variety that are more sophisticated or that are more competitively priced than the services we offer. We may be required to lower our prices to remain competitive, which may decrease our margins and adversely affect our business prospects, financial condition and results of operations.
An oversupply of data center capacity could have a material adverse effect on us.
A buildup of new data centers or reduced demand for data center services could result in an oversupply of data center capacity in China’s large commercial centers. Excess data center capacity could lower the value of data center services and limit the number of economically attractive markets that are available to us for expansion, which could negatively impact our business and results of operations.
Export control and economic or trade sanctions could subject us to regulatory investigations or other actions, and may limit our ability to sell to certain customers, which could materially and adversely affect our competitiveness and business operations.
Recent economic and trade sanctions threatened and/or imposed by the U.S. government on a number of China-based technology companies, including ZTE Corporation, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., or Huawei, and certain of their respective affiliates and other China-based technology companies, as well as actions brought against Huawei and related persons by the U.S. and the Canadian governments, have raised further concerns as to whether, in the future, there may be additional regulatory challenges or enhanced restrictions involving other China-based technology companies including us in a wide range of areas such as data security, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, technologies deployed for surveillance purposes, import/export of technology or other business activities. We may also face restrictions on transactions with certain customers, business partners and other persons. For instance, the U.S. government announced several orders effectively barring sales of components and software subject to U.S. export controls to, among others, Huawei and certain other China-based technology companies and their respective affiliates. In particular, on May 15, 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei and certain of its affiliates to the Entity List. On May 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce took two sets of actions further targeting Chinese firms, including further tightening export controls against Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates and adding additional China-related entities to the Entity List, which imposes restrictions on the transfer of technology to these entities. On August 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed further export control restrictions on Huawei and its affiliates on the Entity List and added additional Huawei affiliates to the Entity List. The Entity List identifies foreign parties that are prohibited from acquiring—whether by export, reexport, or transfer in-country—some or all items subject to the U.S. Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”), unless the exporter secures a license. Licenses, and exceptions to the license requirement, are rarely granted to exporters. Exporting, reexporting or transferring items subject to the EAR in violation of licensing requirements could result in criminal and/or civil penalties. The U.S. Department of Commerce has indicated that engaging in activities contrary to U.S. national security and/or foreign policy interests would be grounds for inclusion on the Entity List. In June and August of 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense (“DOD”) made public two lists of Chinese companies, including the major Chinese telecommunications carriers, that have been determined to be “Communist Chinese military companies” operating directly or indirectly in the United States. While not sanctions lists, the DOD lists may lead to future sanctions by the U.S. government of companies on the DOD lists, including the PRC telecommunications carriers who provide network services to our customers. Additionally, the United States has ended trade preferences for Hong Kong as well as imposed sanctions on certain officials of Hong Kong and PRC government.
These restrictions, and similar or more expansive restrictions or sanctions that may be imposed by the U.S. or other jurisdictions in the future, may adversely affect our ability to work with certain existing and future customers and business partners, which could possibly lead to the modification or cancellation of our existing customer contracts, all of which would harm our business. Furthermore, our association with customers or business partners that are or become subject to U.S. regulatory scrutiny or export restrictions could subject us to actual or perceived reputational harm among current or prospective investors, suppliers or customers, customers of our customers, other parties doing business with us, or the general public. Any such reputational harm could result in the loss of investors, suppliers or customers, which could harm our business, financial conditions or prospects.
Additionally, these developments may materially and adversely affect certain of our suppliers’ and customers’ abilities to acquire technologies, systems, devices or components that may be critical to their technology infrastructure, service offerings and business operations, and further cause a turmoil to their industries including telecommunications, information technology infrastructure and consumer electronics, which may, in turn, materially and adversely affect their demand for our services and affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. These restrictions or sanctions, even targeting specific entities unrelated to us, could nevertheless also negatively affect our and our technology partners’ abilities to recruit research and development talent or conduct technological collaboration with scientists and research institutes in the U.S., Europe or other countries, which could significantly harm our competitiveness. There can be no assurance that we will not be affected by current or future export controls or economic and trade sanctions regulations.
Such potential restrictions, as well as any associated inquiries or investigations or any other government actions, may be difficult or costly to comply with and may, among other things, delay or impede the development of the technology, products and solutions of our customers, hinder the stability of our customers’ supply chain, and may result in negative publicity, any of which may have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The Company provided colocation services to two PRC companies (which belong to the same group) on the Entity List during the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The Company does not sell to any entities listed on the U.S. Commerce Department’s Entity List any servers, IT equipment or any other products that are subject to the EAR and the Company does not export, re-export, or transfer any U.S.-origin products, technology, components or software that are subject to the EAR to any entities listed on the U.S. Commerce Department’s Entity List.
Geopolitical tensions have led to a heightened trend towards trade, technology and even finance “de-coupling” between China and the United States and this adverse trend may continue to deteriorate, which could negatively affect our business operations and results of operations.
In recent years, there has been a deterioration in the relationship between China and the United States which has resulted in intense potential conflicts between the two countries in trade, technology and other areas, and this has led to greater uncertainties in the geopolitical situations in other parts of the world affecting China and Chinese companies. Political tensions between the United States and China have escalated in recent years due to, among other things, the trade war between the two countries since 2018, the COVID-19 outbreak, the PRC National People’s Congress’ passage of Hong Kong national security legislation and decision of the National People’s Congress on improving the electoral system of the Hong Kong, the imposition of U.S. sanctions on certain Chinese officials from China’s central government and the Hong Kong by the U.S. government, and the imposition of sanctions on certain individuals from the U.S. by the Chinese government. Export controls, economic and trade sanctions have been threatened and/or imposed by the U.S. government on a number of Chinese technology companies, some of which are existing or potential customers and/or suppliers to us. The United States has also threatened to impose further export controls, sanctions, trade embargoes, and other heightened regulatory requirements on China and Chinese companies. These have raised concerns that there may be increasing regulatory challenges or enhanced restrictions against China and other Chinese technology companies, including us, in a wide range of areas such as data security, emerging technologies, “dual-use” commercial technologies and applications that could be deployed for surveillance or military purposes, import/export of technology or other business activities. For instance, in 2019 and 2020, the U.S. government announced several executive orders and regulations effectively barring American firms from selling, exporting, re-exporting, or transferring U.S.-origin technology, components and software, among other items, to Chinese technology companies and their respective affiliates. In May 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security announced plans to restrict certain Chinese companies and their overseas-related affiliates’ ability to use U.S. technology and software to design and manufacture their products. On August 5, 2020, the U.S. State Department expanded their “Clean Network” program to cover, among others, availability of apps from Chinese companies and storage of data sensitive to U.S. citizens and businesses on cloud-based storage systems run by Chinese companies, including Alibaba. Various executive orders issued by former U.S. President Donald J. Trump have also led to escalating political tensions between the U.S. and China, such as the one issued in August 2020 that prohibits certain transactions with ByteDance Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd. and the respective subsidiaries of such companies, the executive order issued in November 2020 that prohibits U.S. persons from transacting publicly traded securities of certain “Communist Chinese military companies” named in such executive order, as well as the executive order issued in January 2021 that prohibits such transactions as are identified by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce with certain “Chinese connected software applications,” including Alipay and WeChat Pay. When such measures become effective, any transaction that is related to such target companies by any such person, or with respect to any such property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with such target companies shall be prohibited. These restrictions, and similar or more expansive restrictions that may be imposed by the U.S. or other jurisdictions in the future, may materially and adversely affect our ability to acquire technologies, systems, devices or components that may be critical to our technology infrastructure, service offerings and business operations. We cannot assure you that the current and/or future export controls or economic and trade sanctions regulations or their developments will not have a negative impact on our business operations or reputation.
In addition, if any additional existing or potential customers and/or suppliers of ours, any other parties that have collaborative relationships with us or our affiliates, or our company, were to become targeted under sanctions or export control restrictions, this may result in significant interruption in our business, regulatory investigations and reputational harm to us. Media reports on alleged violation of export control or economic and trade sanctions or data security and privacy laws, by us or by our customers, even on matters not involving us, could nevertheless damage our reputation and lead to regulatory investigations, fines and penalties against us. Such fines and penalties may be significant, and if we were publicly named or investigated by any regulator on the basis of suspected or alleged violations of export control or economic and trade sanctions or data security and privacy laws and rules, even in situations where the potential amount or fine involved may be relatively small, our businesses could be severely interrupted and our reputation could be significantly harmed.
Furthermore, rising trade and political tensions between the United States and China could place pressure on the economic growth in China as well as the rest of the world. Such rising tensions could also reduce levels of trade, investments, technological exchanges and other economic activities between the two major economies, which would have a material adverse effect on global economic conditions and the stability of global financial markets. The U.S. administration under former U.S. President Trump had advocated for and taken steps toward restricting trade in certain goods, particularly from China. While the two nations reached a “Phase One” trade agreement in January 2020, the progress of future trade talks between China and the United States are subject to uncertainties, and there can be no assurance as to whether the United States will maintain or reduce tariffs, or impose additional tariffs on Chinese products in the near future. Trade tension between China and the United States may intensify and the United States may adopt even more drastic measures in the future. China has retaliated and may further retaliate in response to new trade policies, treaties and tariffs implemented by the United States. For example, on January 9, 2021, MOFCOM promulgated the Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extra-territorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures, which will apply to Chinese individuals or entities that are purportedly barred by a foreign country’s law from dealing with nationals or entities of a third country. The measures taken by the U.S. and Chinese governments may have the effect of restricting our ability to transact or otherwise do business with entities within or outside of China and may cause investors to lose confidence in Chinese companies and counterparties, including us. If we were unable to conduct our business as it is currently conducted as a result of such regulatory changes, our business, results of operations and financial condition would be materially and adversely affected.
Any further escalation in trade or other tensions between the United States and China or news and rumors of any escalation, could introduce uncertainties to China’s economy and the global economy which in turn could affect the Chinese economy generally, including the use of mobile, web-based commerce as well as our customers’ cloud-based platforms and services. Any such decline in the technology industry, reduction in cloud adoption or slowdown in the growth of the internet and the use of our customers’ platforms and services may lead to decreased demand for data center capacity or managed services, which could have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition. Foreign policies of the United States tend to be followed by certain other countries, and those countries may adopt similar policies in their relationships with China and the Chinese companies.
Changes in international trade or investment policies and barriers to trade or investment, and the ongoing trade conflict, may have an adverse effect on our business and expansion plans.
In recent years, international market conditions and the international regulatory environment have been increasingly affected by competition among countries and geopolitical frictions. Changes to national trade or investment policies, treaties and tariffs, fluctuations in exchange rates or the perception that these changes could occur, could adversely affect the financial and economic conditions in the jurisdictions in which we operate, as well as our international and cross-border operations, our financial condition and results of operations. For example, in 2018 the United States announced tariffs that applied to products imported from China, totaling approximately US$250 billion, and in May 2019 the United States increased the rate of certain tariffs previously levied on Chinese products from 10% to 25%. In August 2019, the United States announced that it would apply an additional tariff of 10% on the remaining US$300 billion of goods and products coming from China. After several rounds of trade talks between China and the United States, the United States temporarily delayed an increase in tariffs on US$250 billion of products imported from China, and in September and October 2019, the United States announced several tariff exemptions for certain Chinese products. In August 2019, the U.S. Treasury labeled China a currency manipulator and withdrew such designation in January 2020. In addition, the United States is reported to be considering ways to limit U.S. investment portfolio flows into China, though no details in such regard have been officially announced.
China and other countries have retaliated and may further retaliate in response to new trade policies, treaties and tariffs implemented by the United States. For instance, in response to the tariffs announced by the United States in May 2018, China imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods of a similar value, and in response to the tariff announcements by the United States in August 2019, China announced it would stop buying U.S. agricultural products and would not rule out import tariffs on newly purchased U.S. agricultural products. In September 2019, China unveiled several tariff exemptions for U.S. products, including various agricultural products. Even though, in January 2020, the “Phase One” trade agreement was signed between the United States and China, the U.S.-China relationship has deteriorated further, and there can be no assurances that the U.S. or China will not increase tariffs or impose additional tariffs in the future. Any further actions to increase existing tariffs or impose additional tariffs could result in an escalation of the trade conflict, and may have tremendous negative impact on the economies of not merely the two countries concerned, but the global economy as a whole. If these measures and tariffs affect any of our customers and their business results and prospects, their demand for, or ability to pay for, our data center services may decrease, which would materially and adversely affect our results of operations. In addition, if China were to increase the tariff on any of the items imported by our suppliers and contract manufacturers from the U.S., they might not be able to find substitutes with the same quality and price in China or from other countries. As a result, our costs would increase and our business, financial condition and results of operations would be adversely affected.
Our failure to comply with regulations applicable to our leased data center buildings may materially and adversely affect our ability to use such data centers.
Among the data center buildings that we lease, including those under construction, a majority of the lease agreements have not been registered or filed with relevant authorities in accordance with the applicable PRC laws and regulations. The enforcement of this legal requirement varies depending on local practices. In case of failure to register or file a lease, the parties to the unregistered lease may be ordered to make rectifications (which would involve registering such leases with the relevant authority) before being subject to penalties. The penalty ranges from RMB1,000 to RMB10,000 for each unregistered lease, at the discretion of the relevant authority. The relevant PRC law is not clear as to which of the parties, the lessor or the lessee, is liable for the failure to register the lease, and the lease agreements of several of our data centers provide that the lessor is responsible for processing the registration and must compensate us for losses caused by any breach of the obligation. Although we have proactively requested that the applicable lessors complete or cooperate with us to complete the registration in a timely manner, we are unable to control whether and when such lessors will do so. In the event that a fine is imposed on both the lessor and lessee, and if we are unable to recover from the lessor any fine paid by us in accordance with the terms of the lease agreement, such fine will be borne by us. In the case of one data center in Beijing, a portion of the building has been constructed without obtaining the building ownership certificate, and the part of the lease in relation to such portion may be deemed invalid if the construction has not been duly approved by the government, in which event we would not be able to use that portion of property. If the owners fail to obtain the necessary consents and/or to comply with the applicable legal requirements for the change of usage of these premises, and the relevant authority or the court orders us to use the relevant leased buildings for the designated usage only, we may not be able to continue to use these buildings for data center purposes and we may need relocate our operation there to other suitable premises. We may also be subject to administrative penalties for lack of fire safety approvals for renovation of the leased premises, and we may be ordered to suspend operations at applicable premises if we fail to timely cure any such defect. Construction or renovation of certain other of our data centers was carried out without obtaining construction (including zoning) related permits, and certain leased premises were put into use without fulfillment of construction inspection and acceptance procedures, which may cause administrative penalties to be imposed on us in the case of renovation, and may cause the use of the leased premises to be deemed illegal, and we may be forced to suspend our operations as a result. See also “—Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China—Our business operations are extensively impacted by the policies and regulations of the PRC government. Any policy or regulatory change may cause us to incur significant compliance costs.”
We may be regarded as being non-compliant with the regulations on VATS due to the lack of IDC licenses for which penalties may be assessed that may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, growth strategies and prospects.
The laws and regulations regarding VATS, licenses in the PRC are relatively new and are still evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. Investment activities in the PRC by foreign investors are principally governed by the Industry Catalog Relating to Foreign Investment, or the Catalog, which was promulgated and is amended from time to time by the MOFCOM and the NDRC. Industries not included in the Special Management Measures (Negative List) of the Catalog are permitted industries. Industries such as value-added telecommunication services, including internet data center services, are restricted to foreign investment. The Special Management Measures (Foreign Investment Permitted Negative List) of the Catalog has been superseded by the Special Management Measures (Negative List) (2018) and the Encouraged Foreign Investment Industry Catalog has been superseded by Encouraged Foreign Investment Industry Catalog (2019). On June 23, 2020, the MOFCOM and the NDRC promulgated the Special Management Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment, or the Negative List (2020), which became effective on July 23, 2020. Foreign investment in VATS (other than e-commerce, domestic multi-party communications, store-and-forward and call center), including internet data center services, still falls within the Negative List (2020). Specifically, the Administrative Regulations on Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises restrict the ultimate capital contribution percentage held by foreign investor(s) in a foreign-invested VATS enterprise to 50% or less. Under the Telecommunications Regulations, telecommunications service providers are required to procure operating licenses prior to their commencement of operations. The Administrative Measures for Telecommunications Business Operating License, which took effect on April 10, 2009 and was amended on September 1, 2017, set forth the types of licenses required to provide telecommunications services in China and the procedures and requirements for obtaining such licenses.
Before 2013, the definition of the IDC services was subject to interpretation as to whether our services would fall within its scope. In addition, authorities in different localities had different interpretations. According to the Classification Catalogue of Telecommunications Services, or the Telecom Catalogue, publicized in February 2003 by the Ministry of Information Industry, the predecessor of the MIIT, which took effect in April 2003, and our consultations with the MIIT, IDC services should be rendered through the connection with the internet or other public telecommunications networks.
On May 6, 2013, the “Q&A on the Application of IDC/ISP Business,” or the Q&A, was published on the website of China Academy of Telecom Research, an affiliate of the MIIT. The Q&A was issued together with the draft revised Telecom Catalogue of the 2013 version, which although not an official law or regulation, reflected the evolving attitude of the MIIT towards the legal requirements as to applications for IDC licenses. A national consulting body and certain telephone numbers, the Designated Numbers, are provided in the Q&A to answer any questions arising from the application of IDC licenses. Since then, even though the definition of IDC services under the Q&A is identical to that under the Telecom Catalogue, whether a business model should be deemed to be IDC services is subject to the unified clarifications under the Q&A and replies obtained from such Designated Numbers, rather than different replies which may be obtained from different officials from the MIIT or its local branches. The draft revised Telecom Catalogue did not come into effect until March 2016, when it was further revised to adapt to developments in the telecommunications industry. During such period, we closely followed legislative developments and conducted feasibility studies for restructuring our business. Based on the Q&A and our consultation with both the Designated Numbers and MIIT officials in 2014 and 2015, IDC services which did not utilize public telecommunications networks would also require an IDC license and that IDC services could only be provided by a holder of an IDC license, or a subsidiary of such holder, with the authorization of the holder.
GDS Beijing obtained a cross-regional IDC license in November 2013, the scope of which now includes Shanghai, Suzhou, Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Zhangjiakou, Langfang, Tianjin, Huizhou and Chongqing. In order to adapt to the new regulatory requirements and address pre-existing customer agreements, we converted GDS Suzhou into a domestic company wholly owned by GDS Beijing by acquiring all of the equity interests in GDS Suzhou from Further Success Limited, or FSL, a limited liability company established in the British Virgin Islands, in order to enable GDS Suzhou to provide IDC services with the authorization of GDS Beijing, and under the auspices of an IDC license held by GDS Beijing. The MIIT approved GDS Beijing’s application to expand its IDC license coverage to include GDS Suzhou and Kunshan Wanyu Data Service Co., Ltd., or Kunshan Wanyu, so that they are now authorized to provide IDC services. As part of the VIE restructuring, we converted and changed the shareholding of Shanghai Waigaoqiao EDC Technology Co, Ltd., or EDC Shanghai Waigaoqiao, in the same way as GDS Suzhou, and the MIIT has approved GDS Beijing’s application to expand its IDC license coverage to include EDC Shanghai Waigaoqiao so that EDC Shanghai Waigaoqiao is also authorized to provide IDC services, and the MIIT has approved GDS Beijing’s application to expand its IDC license coverage to include Shenzhen Yaode. As the result of our acquisition of BJ10, BJ11 and BJ12, we have acquired all of the equity interests in Lanting (Beijing) Information Science and Technology Co., Ltd., or Lanting Information, which therefore has been converted into a foreign-invested company. The existing customer agreements of BJ10, BJ11 and BJ12 were entered into by Lanting Information as an IDC service provider before our acquisition. As part of the acquisition, Lanting Information canceled its IDC license prior to the closing and the relevant counterparties have completed the assignment of all of the rights and obligations of Lanting Information as the IDC service provider under these customer agreements to GDS Beijing as the IDC service provider. In addition, with regard to the other WFOEs that have not contributed substantial revenue, we are deliberating different measures to ensure that any business activity that may have to be conducted by IDC license holders will be conducted by our IDC license holders, which are our consolidated VIEs.
However, there can be no assurance that our agreements signed before the completion of the VIE restructuring with any of our WFOEs as the service provider will not be deemed as historical non-compliance. Also, we cannot assure you that the fact that Lanting Information is the signing party of such agreements during the interim period from the cancellation date of its own IDC license to the completion date of the assignment of such agreements will not be deemed as historical non-compliance. If the MIIT regards us as existing in a state of non-compliance, penalties could potentially be assessed against us. It is possible that the amount of any such penalties may be several times more than the net revenue generated from these services. Our business, financial condition, expected growth and prospects would be materially and adversely affected if such penalties were to be assessed upon us. It is also possible that the PRC government may prohibit a non-compliant entity from continuing to carry on its business, which would materially and adversely affect our results of operations, expected growth and prospects.
We have learned that the MIIT will not approve any expansion of authorization by an IDC license holder to its subsidiary, and that it will not allow any such subsidiary of an IDC license holder to renew its current authorization in the future. Instead, the MIIT will require subsidiaries of IDC license holders to apply for their own IDC licenses. Although, to our knowledge, such policy is not supported by any published laws or regulations, we have been making efforts to comply with this regulatory development. GDS Suzhou has already obtained its own IDC license in May 2019. Beijing Wan Chang Yun and Shenzhen Yaode have obtained their own IDC license respectively in September and November 2019. The other subsidiaries of our VIEs currently plan to apply for their own IDC licenses in order to continually maintain authorizations to provide IDC services going forward. However, we cannot assure you that we will be able to obtain approvals from the MIIT for their own IDC Licenses in a timely manner or at all, or obtain approvals from the MIIT for an expansion of authorization from GDS Beijing under its IDC license to allow IDC services to be provided by the other subsidiaries of our VIEs, who rely on such authorizations and expansions to provide IDC services, or that we will be able to renew such authorizations and expansions in due course. Based on our experience with IDC license applications, we do not foresee any legal impediment for such subsidiaries to obtain their IDC licenses. In the unlikely event that such subsidiaries fail to obtain their IDC licenses, we plan to have such subsidiaries assign relevant customer agreements to GDS Beijing so that GDS Beijing will provide the IDC services under such customer agreements, as GDS Beijing’s IDC license covers the locations and scope of IDC services provided by such subsidiaries. However, we will need to obtain customers’ consent to the foregoing assignment, and there can be no assurance that we will be able to obtain such consents from customers before the authorization expires. If any of these situations occur, our business, financial condition, expected growth and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
Some of our consolidated VIEs may be regarded as being non-compliant with the regulations on VATS, due to operating beyond the permitted scope of their IDC licenses.
One of our consolidated VIEs, GDS Shanghai, obtained a regional IDC license for the Shanghai area in January 2012. Nevertheless, GDS Shanghai provided IDC services in cities outside of Shanghai, which were beyond the scope of its then-effective IDC license. GDS Shanghai upgraded its IDC license to a cross-regional license in April 2016, according to which GDS Shanghai is allowed to provide IDC services in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu. A subsidiary of one of our consolidated VIEs, GDS Suzhou, was historically authorized to provide general IDC services under the auspices of an IDC license held by GDS Beijing but such authorization approved by MIIT did not include internet resources collaboration services. Nevertheless, GDS Suzhou signed agreements with clients to provide internet resources collaboration services. In 2018, we further expanded GDS Beijing’s authorization to GDS Suzhou so that GDS Suzhou also was allowed to provide internet resources collaboration services. In addition, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, GDS Beijing and GDS Suzhou entered into IDC service agreements with relevant customers, according to which GDS Beijing and GDS Suzhou have been providing IDC services to their respective customers through third-party data centers in Tianjin. In 2017, GDS Beijing entered into an IDC services agreement with a certain customer, according to which GDS Beijing has been providing IDC services since 2018 in our three data centers located at Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province. However, GDS Beijing’s IDC license and its authorization granted to GDS Suzhou have not included the Tianjin and Zhangjiakou areas until 2019, when GDS Beijing has upgraded its IDC license to cover the Zhangjiakou, Langfang and Tianjin areas, and GDS Suzhou has obtained its own IDC license whereby GDS Suzhou is also allowed to provide general IDC services in broad geographic scope including Tianjin and Zhangjiakou. However, although such approvals have been obtained, we cannot assure you that any agreements signed before GDS Beijing and GDS Suzhou obtained such approvals may not be deemed as historical non-compliance. If the MIIT regards GDS Shanghai, GDS Suzhou and GDS Beijing as being historically non-compliant, penalties which could be several times more than the net revenue generated from these services, could potentially be assessed against us, and as a result, our business, financial condition, expected growth and prospects would be materially and adversely affected. It is also possible that the PRC government may prohibit a historically non-compliant entity from continuing to carry on its business, which would materially and adversely affect our results of operations, expected growth and prospects.
One of our subsidiaries, GDS (Hong Kong) Limited, entered into IDC service agreements with customers outside China, which may be regarded as non-compliance with the regulations on foreign investment restriction and VATS, by providing IDC service without qualification.
In 2015 and 2016, GDS (Hong Kong) Limited, or GDS HK, which is one of our Hong Kong incorporated subsidiaries, entered into IDC service agreements with a few customers outside China, while the actual service provider was intended to be GDS Beijing or EDC Shanghai Waigaoqiao. These IDC service agreements may be regarded as non-compliant, because the law prohibits foreign entities providing IDC services in the PRC.
We have amended all of our IDC service agreements to specify GDS Beijing or its subsidiaries as the contracting party for such agreements, so that such agreements are, in our belief, compliant. However, we cannot assure you that our IDC service agreements as amended will not be found to be non-compliant. If the MIIT regards such agreements as non-compliant, penalties could potentially be assessed against us, and as a result, our business, financial condition, expected growth and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
We may fail to obtain, maintain and update licenses or permits necessary to conduct our operations in the PRC, and our business may be materially and adversely affected as a result of any changes in the laws and regulations governing the VATS industry in the PRC.
There can be no assurance that we will be able to maintain our existing licenses or permits necessary to provide our current IDC services in the PRC, renew any of them when their current term expires, or update existing licenses or obtain additional licenses necessary for our future business expansion. The failure to obtain, retain, renew or update any license or permit generally, and our IDC licenses in particular, could materially and adversely disrupt our business and future expansion plans.
For example, the revised Telecom Catalogue came into effect in March 2016 in which the definition of the IDC business also covers the internet resources collaboration services business to reflect the developments in the telecommunications industry in China and covers cloud-based services. Also, in January 2017, the MIIT issued The Circular of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Clearing up and Regulating the Internet Access Service Market, or the 2017 MIIT Circular, according to which an enterprise that obtained its IDC license prior to the implementation of the revised Telecom Catalogue and has actually carried out internet resources collaboration services shall make a written commitment to its original license issuing authority before March 31, 2017 to meet the relevant requirements for business licensing and obtain the corresponding telecommunication business license by the end of 2017. The 2017 MIIT Circular also requires that companies providing IDC services shall not construct communication transmission facilities without permission. Although we have successfully expanded the scope of our IDC licenses to cover internet resources collaboration services, fixed network domestic data transmission services and domestic internet virtual private network services as required under the 2017 MIIT Circular, changes in the regulatory environment of this kind are potentially disruptive to our business as they may require us to modify the way we conduct our business in order to receive licenses or otherwise comply with such requirements. We may also be deemed in non-compliance for failure to update our operation licenses in a timely manner according to such new regulatory requirements. Any such changes could increase our compliance costs, divert management’s attention or interfere with our ability to serve customers, any of which could harm our results of operations.
In addition, if future PRC laws or regulations governing the VATS industry require that we obtain additional licenses or permits or update existing licenses in order to continue to provide our IDC services, there can be no assurance that we would be able to obtain such licenses or permits or update existing licenses in a timely manner, or at all. If any of these situations occur, our business, financial condition and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
Third-party data center providers from whom we lease data center capacity on a wholesale basis may fail to maintain licenses and permits necessary to conduct their operations in the PRC, and our business may be materially and adversely affected.
As of December 31, 2020, we operated an aggregate net floor area of 8,144 sqm that we lease on a wholesale basis from other data center providers, and which we refer to as our third-party data centers. There can be no assurance that the wholesale data center providers from whom we lease will be able to maintain their existing licenses or permits necessary to provide our current IDC services in the PRC or renew any of them when their current term expires. Their failure to obtain, retain or renew any license or permit generally, and their IDC licenses in particular, could materially and adversely disrupt our business.
In addition, if any future PRC laws or regulations governing the VATS industry require that the wholesale data center providers from whom we lease obtain additional licenses or permits in order to continue to provide their IDC services, there can be no assurance that they would be able to obtain such licenses or permits in a timely manner, or at all. If any of these situations occur, our business, financial condition and prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
We cannot assure you that we will be able to relocate such operations to suitable alternative premises, and any such relocation may result in disruption to our business operations and thereby result in loss of earnings. We may also need to incur additional costs for the relocation of our operation. There is also no assurance that we will be able to effectively mitigate the possible adverse effects that may be caused by such disruption, loss or costs. Any of such disruption, loss or costs could materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Our failure to maintain our relationships with various cloud service providers may adversely affect our managed cloud services, and as a result, our business, operating results and financial condition.
Our managed cloud services involve providing services to the customers of cloud service providers. If we do not maintain good relationships with cloud service providers, our business could be negatively affected. If these cloud service providers fail to perform as required under our agreements for any reason or suffer service level interruptions or other performance issues, or if our customers are less satisfied than expected with the services provided or results obtained, we may not realize the anticipated benefits of these relationships.
Since our agreements with key cloud service providers in China are non-exclusive, these companies may decide in the future to partner with more of our competitors, develop in-house data center capabilities or terminate their agreements with us, any of which could adversely and materially affect our business expansion plan and expected growth.
We may not be able to keep up with rapidly changing technology, including our ability to upgrade our power, cooling, security or connectivity systems cost-effectively or at all.
The markets for the data centers we own and operate, as well as certain of the industries in which our customers operate, are characterized by rapidly changing technology, evolving industry standards, frequent new service introductions, shifting distribution channels and changing customer demands. As a result, the infrastructure at our data centers may become obsolete or unmarketable due to demand for new processes and/or technologies, including, without limitation: (i) new processes to deliver power to, or eliminate heat from, computer systems; (ii) customer demand for additional redundancy capacity; (iii) new technology that permits higher levels of critical load and heat removal than our data centers are currently designed to provide; and (iv) an inability of the power supply to support new, updated or upgraded technology. In addition, the systems that connect our self-developed data centers, and in particular, our third-party data centers, to the internet and other external networks may become outdated, including with respect to latency, reliability and diversity of connectivity. When customers demand new processes or technologies, we may not be able to upgrade our data centers on a cost-effective basis, or at all, due to, among other things, increased expenses to us that cannot be passed on to customers or insufficient revenue to fund the necessary capital expenditures. The obsolescence of our power and cooling systems and/or our inability to upgrade our data centers, including associated connectivity, could reduce revenue at our data centers and could have a material adverse effect on us. Furthermore, potential future regulations that apply to industries we serve may require customers in those industries to seek specific requirements from their data centers that we are unable to provide. If such regulations were adopted, we could lose customers or be unable to attract new customers in certain industries, which could have a material adverse effect on us.
If we are unable to adapt to evolving technologies and customer demands in a timely and cost-effective manner, our ability to sustain and grow our business may suffer.
To be successful, we must adapt to our rapidly changing market by continually improving the performance, features and reliability of our services and modifying our business strategies accordingly, which could cause us to incur substantial costs. We may not be able to adapt to changing technologies in a timely and cost-effective manner, if at all, which would adversely impact our ability to sustain and grow our business.
In addition, new technologies have the potential to replace or provide lower cost alternatives to our services. The adoption of such new technologies could render some or all of our services obsolete or unmarketable. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to identify the emergence of all of these new service alternatives successfully, modify our services accordingly, or develop and bring new services to market in a timely and cost-effective manner to address these changes. If and when we do identify the emergence of new service alternatives and introduce new services to market, those new services may need to be made available at lower profit margins than our then-current services. Failure to provide services to compete with new technologies or the obsolescence of our services could lead us to lose current and potential customers or could cause us to incur substantial costs, which would harm our operating results and financial condition. Our introduction of new alternative services that have lower price points than our current offerings may also result in our existing customers switching to the lower cost products, which could reduce our net revenue and have a material adverse effect on our results of operation.
We have limited ability to protect our intellectual property rights, and unauthorized parties may infringe upon or misappropriate our intellectual property.
Our success depends in part upon our proprietary intellectual property rights, including certain methodologies, practices, tools and technical expertise we utilize in designing, developing, implementing and maintaining applications and processes used in providing our services. We rely on a combination of copyright, trademark, trade secrets and other intellectual property laws, nondisclosure agreements with our employees, customers and other relevant persons and other measures to protect our intellectual property, including our brand identity. Nevertheless, it may be possible for third parties to obtain and use our intellectual property without authorization. The unauthorized use of intellectual property is common in China and enforcement of intellectual property rights by PRC regulatory agencies is inconsistent. As a result, litigation may be necessary to enforce our intellectual property rights. Litigation could result in substantial costs and diversion of our management’s attention and resources, and could disrupt our business, as well as have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Given the relative unpredictability of China’s legal system and potential difficulties in enforcing a court judgment in China, there is no guarantee that we would be able to halt any unauthorized use of our intellectual property in China through litigation.
We may be subject to third-party claims of intellectual property infringement.
We derive most our revenues in China and use, our figure trademarks, in a majority of our services. We have registered the figure trademark in China and the trademark in Hong Kong in several categories that cover our services areas and we plan to register the figure trademark in China in certain additional categories. We have also registered the pure text of “GDS” as a trademark in several categories that cover our services areas, however, a third party has also registered the pure text of “GDS” as a trademark in certain IT-related services. As the services for which the third-party trademark is registered are also IT-related and could be construed as similar to ours in some respects, infringement claims may be asserted against us, and we cannot assure you that a government authority or a court will hold the view that such similarity will not cause confusion in the market. In this case, if we use the pure text of GDS (which we have not registered as a trademark with respect to all services we provide) as our trademark, we may be required to explore the possibility of acquiring this trademark or entering into an exclusive licensing agreement with the third party, which will cause us to incur additional costs. In addition, we may be unaware of intellectual property registrations or applications that purport to relate to our services, which could give rise to potential infringement claims against us. Parties making infringement claims may be able to obtain an injunction to prevent us from delivering our services or using trademark or technology containing the allegedly intellectual property. If we become liable to third parties for infringing upon their intellectual property rights, we could be required to pay a substantial damage award. We may also be subject to injunctions that require us to alter our processes or methodologies so as not to infringe upon a third party’s intellectual property, which may not be technically or commercially feasible and may cause us to expend significant resources. Any claims or litigation in this area, whether we ultimately win or lose, could be time-consuming and costly, could cause the diversion of management’s attention and resources away from the operations of our business and could damage our reputation.
If our customers’ proprietary intellectual property or confidential information is misappropriated or disclosed by us or our employees in violation of applicable laws and contractual agreements, we could be exposed to protracted and costly legal proceedings and lose clients.
We and our employees are in some cases provided with access to our customers’ proprietary intellectual property and confidential information, including technology, software products, business policies and plans, trade secrets and personal data. Many of our customer agreements require that we do not engage in the unauthorized use or disclosure of such intellectual property or information and that we will be required to indemnify our customers for any loss they may suffer as a result. We use security technologies and other methods to prevent employees from making unauthorized copies, or engaging in unauthorized use or unauthorized disclosure, of such intellectual property and confidential information. We also require our employees to enter into nondisclosure arrangements to limit access to and distribution of our customers’ intellectual property and other confidential information as well as our own. However, the steps taken by us in this regard may not be adequate to safeguard our customers’ intellectual property and confidential information. Moreover, most of our customer agreements do not include any limitation on our liability with respect to breaches of our obligation to keep the intellectual property or confidential information we receive from them confidential. In addition, we may not always be aware of intellectual property registrations or applications relating to source codes, software products or other intellectual property belonging to our customers. As a result, if our customers’ proprietary rights are misappropriated by us or our employees, our customers may consider us liable for such act and seek damages and compensation from us.
Assertions of infringement of intellectual property or misappropriation of confidential information against us, if successful, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Protracted litigation could also result in existing or potential customers deferring or limiting their purchase or use of our services until resolution of such litigation. Even if such assertions against us are unsuccessful, they may cause us to lose existing and future business and incur reputational harm and substantial legal fees.
We rely on third-party suppliers for key elements of our facilities, equipment, network infrastructure and software.
We contract with third parties for the supply of facilities, equipment and hardware that we use in the provision of our services to our customers and that we sell to our customers in some cases. The loss of a significant supplier could delay expansion of the data center facilities that we operate, impact our ability to sell our services and hardware and increase our costs. If we are unable to purchase the hardware or obtain a license for the software that our services depend on, our business could be significantly and adversely affected. In addition, if our suppliers are unable to provide products that meet evolving industry standards or that are unable to effectively interoperate with other products or services that we use, then we may be unable to meet all or a portion of our customer service commitments, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
We engage third-party contractors to carry out various services relating to our data center facilities.
We engage third-party contractors to carry out various services relating to our data center facilities, including on-site security, cleaning and greening service, part of the 24/7 on duty operations and IT and customer service delivery. We endeavor to engage third-party companies with a strong reputation and proven track record, high-performance reliability and adequate financial resources. However, any such third-party contractor may still fail to provide satisfactory security services or quality outsourced labor, resulting in inappropriate access to our facilities or IT faults which, though non-critical, may cause poor service quality to customers.
Undertaking and managing expansions in overseas markets subject us to risks different than those we face in Mainland China and Hong Kong, and we may not be able to effectively implement our overseas expansion plans.
We are currently evaluating expansion opportunities outside of Mainland China and Hong Kong. Undertaking and managing expansions in overseas markets may subject us to a number of additional risks, including:
|●||protectionist laws and business practices favoring local competition;|
|●||greater difficulty or delay in accounts receivable collection;|
|●||difficulties in staffing and managing foreign operations, including negotiating with foreign labor unions or workers’ councils;|
|●||political and economic instability;|
|●||unexpected changes in regulatory, tax and political environments;|
|●||fluctuations in currency exchange rates;|
|●||difficulties in repatriating funds from certain countries;;|
|●||difficulties in managing across cultures and in foreign languages;|
|●||our ability to obtain, transfer or maintain licenses required by governmental entities with respect to our business;|
|●||our ability to secure and maintain the necessary physical and telecommunications infrastructure;|
|●||compliance with anti-bribery and corruption laws;|
|●||compliance with evolving governmental regulation with which we have little experience; and|
|●||compliance with evolving and varied regulations related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.|
As we expand into overseas markets, we may face risks associated with a lack of market knowledge or understanding of the local economy and culture, forging new business relationships in the area and unfamiliarity with local government procedures. In addition, due diligence, transaction and structuring costs may be higher than those we may face in the Mainland China and Hong Kong. We may mitigate such risks through extensive diligence and research and associations with experienced local partners; however, we cannot assure you that all such risks will be eliminated.
We have expanded in the past and expect to continue to expand in the future through acquisitions of other companies, each of which may divert our management’s attention, result in additional dilution to shareholders or use resources that are necessary to operate our business.
In the past, we have grown our business through acquisitions and we expect to continue to evaluate and enter into discussions regarding potential strategic acquisition transactions and alliances to further expand our business, and, from time to time, we may have a number of pending investments and acquisitions that are subject to closing conditions. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—A. History and Development of the Company” for additional details. However, such pending acquisitions are subject to uncertainties and may not be completed due to failure to satisfy all closing conditions as a result of inaccuracy or breach of representations and warranties of, or non-compliance with covenants by, either party or other reasons. If we are presented with appropriate opportunities, we may acquire additional businesses, services, resources, or assets, including data centers, that are complementary to our core business. Our integration of the acquired entities or assets into our business may not be successful and may not enable us to generate the expected revenues or expand into new services, customer segments or operating locations as well as we expect. This would significantly affect the expected benefits of these acquisitions. Moreover, the integration of any acquired entities or assets into our operations could require significant attention from our management. The diversion of our management’s attention and any difficulties encountered in any integration process could have an adverse effect on our ability to manage our business. In addition, we may face challenges trying to integrate new operations, services and personnel with our existing operations. Our possible future acquisitions may also expose us to other potential risks, including risks associated with unforeseen or hidden liabilities, litigation, corrupt practices of prior owners, problems with data center design or operation, or other issues not discovered in the due diligence process or addressed through acquisition agreements, the diversion of resources from our existing businesses and technologies, our inability to generate sufficient revenue to offset the costs, expenses of acquisitions and potential loss of, or harm to, relationships with employees and customers as a result of our integration of new businesses.
Our failure to address these risks or other problems encountered in connection with our past or future acquisitions and investments could cause us to fail to realize the anticipated benefits of these acquisitions or investments, cause us to incur unanticipated liabilities and harm our business generally. Future acquisitions could also result in the use of substantial amounts of our cash and cash equivalents, dilutive issuances of our equity securities, the incurrence of debt, contingent liabilities, amortization expenses or the write-off of goodwill, any of which could harm our financial condition. Also, the anticipated benefits of any acquisitions may not materialize, may be less beneficial, or may develop more slowly, than we expect. If we do not receive the benefits anticipated from these acquisitions and investments, or if the achievement of these benefits is delayed, our operating results may be adversely affected and our stock price could decline.
The anticipated benefits of our joint ventures and strategic partnerships or future joint ventures or strategic partnerships may not be fully realized, or take longer to realize than expected.
We have entered into onshore and offshore joint ventures with CPE Fund, SBCVC Fund and other third-party partners, and have formed a strategic partnership with GIC. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—A. History and Development of the Company” for additional details. We may continue to evaluate and establish potential joint ventures and strategic partnerships with other appropriate partners to further develop our business.
We may not realize the anticipated benefits from these joint ventures and strategic partnerships. The success of these joint ventures and strategic partnerships will depend, in part, on the successful partnership between the relevant partner and us. Such a partnership is subject to the risks outlined below, and more generally, to the same types of business risks as would impact our business operations when pursued on a cooperative basis:
|●||we may not have the right to exercise sole decision-making authority regarding the joint venture;|
|●||our partner may become bankrupt or fail to pay the relevant consideration for the cooperation with us;|
|●||our partner’s interests may not be aligned with our interests, our partner may have economic, tax or other business interests or goals which are inconsistent with our business interests or goals, and may take actions contrary to our policies or objectives;|
|●||our partner may take actions unrelated to our business agreement but which reflect adversely on us because of our joint venture;|
|●||changes in the terms of the arrangements of our partnerships may materially and adversely affect our ability to complete or operate projects we are pursuing or contemplating through joint venture partnerships;|
|●||disputes between us and our partner may result in litigation or arbitration that would increase our expenses and prevent our management from focusing their time and effort on our business; and|
|●||we may in certain circumstances be liable for the actions of our partner or guarantee all or a portion of the joint venture’s liabilities.|
A failure to successfully partner, or a failure to realize our expectations for the joint ventures, could materially impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The uncertain economic environment may have an adverse impact on our business and financial condition.
The uncertain economic environment could have an adverse effect on our liquidity. While we believe we have a strong customer base, if the current market conditions were to worsen, some of our customers may have difficulty paying us and we may experience increased churn in our customer base and reductions in their commitments to us. We may also be required to make allowances for doubtful accounts and our results would be negatively impacted. Our sales cycle could also be lengthened if customers reduce spending on, or delay decision-making with respect to, our services, which could adversely affect our revenue growth and our ability to recognize net revenue. We could also experience pricing pressure as a result of economic conditions if our competitors lower prices and attempt to lure away our customers with lower cost solutions. Finally, our ability to access the equity and debt capital markets may be severely restricted at a time when we would like, or need, to do so, especially during times of increased volatility in global financial markets and stock markets, which could limit our ability to raise funds through additional equity sales. Any inability to raise funds from capital markets generally, and equity capital markets in particular, could adversely affect our liquidity as well as hinder our ability to pursue additional strategic expansion opportunities, execute our business plans and maintain our desired level of revenue growth in the future.
A downturn in the PRC or global economy could reduce the demand for our services, which could materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
The recovery since the economic downturns of 2008 and 2009 has been uneven and is facing new challenges. These include the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the outbreak of a trade war between the PRC and the United States, the imposition of additional tariffs on bilateral imports in 2018 and 2019, the slower growth of the PRC economy since 2012, as well as the outbreak and global spread of a novel strain of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in early 2020 and the severe deterioration of bilateral relations between the PRC and the United States in 2019, 2020 and 2021, all of which have contributed to uncertainty about the global economy. See “Geopolitical tensions have led to a heightened trend towards trade, technology and even finance “de-coupling” between China and the United States and this adverse trend may continue to deteriorate, which could negatively affect our business operations and results of operations.” There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including those of the United States and the PRC. There have been concerns about the economic effects of rising tensions between the PRC and surrounding Asian countries. Economic conditions in the PRC are sensitive to global economic conditions. International conditions and any new or escalating trade war can lead to disruption in our supply chain and higher costs of capital expenditures. There also have been concerns over unrest across the globe, including in the Middle East, Africa and Hong Kong, which have contributed to volatility in financial and other markets. In particular, actual or perceived social unrest in Hong Kong, one of our Tier 1 markets, could result in service interruptions and data losses for our customers as well as equipment damage, which could significantly disrupt the normal business operations of our customers and reduce our net revenue.
Any disruptions or continuing or worsening slowdown in the global economy or the PRC economy, whether as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade conflicts, the deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship, or other reasons, could significantly impact and reduce domestic commercial activities in China, which may lead to decreased demand for our colocation or managed services and have a negative impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations. A decrease in economic activity, whether actual or perceived, a further decrease in economic growth rates or an otherwise uncertain economic outlook in China could have a material adverse effect on our customers’ expenditures and, as a result, may also adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Additionally, continued turbulence in the international markets may adversely affect our ability to access the capital markets to meet our liquidity needs. Any periods of continuing or worsening increased or heightened volatility in financial, equity and other markets, particularly due to investor concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship, could limit our ability to raise funds, pursue further business expansion and maintain revenue growth. See “—The uncertain economic environment may have an adverse impact on our business and financial condition” above.
Our success depends to a substantial degree upon our senior management, including Mr. Huang, and key personnel, and our business operations may be negatively affected if we fail to attract and retain highly competent senior management.
We depend to a significant degree on the continuous service of Mr. Huang, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, and our experienced senior management team and other key personnel such as project managers and other middle management. If one or more members of our senior management team or key personnel resigns, it could disrupt our business operations and create uncertainty as we search for and integrate a replacement. If any member of our senior management leaves us to join a competitor or to form a competing company, any resulting loss of existing or potential clients to any such competitor could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Additionally, there could be unauthorized disclosure or use of our technical knowledge, practices or procedures by such personnel. We have entered into employment agreements with our senior management and key personnel. We have also entered into confidentiality agreements with our personnel which contain nondisclosure covenants that survive indefinitely as to our trade secrets. Additionally, pursuant to these confidentiality agreements, any inventions and creations of our employees relating to the company’s business that are completed within twelve months after termination of employment shall be transferred to the company without payment of consideration, and the employees shall assist the company in applying for corresponding patents or other rights. However, these employment agreements do not ensure the continued service of these senior management and key personnel, and we may not be able to enforce the confidentiality agreements we have with our personnel. In addition, we do not maintain key man life insurance for any of the senior members of our management team or our key personnel.
Competition for employees is intense, and we may not be able to attract and retain the qualified and skilled employees needed to support our business.
We believe our success depends on the efforts and talent of our employees, including data center design, construction management, operations, engineering, IT, risk management, and sales and marketing personnel. Our future success depends on our continued ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain qualified and skilled employees. Competition for highly skilled personnel is extremely intense. We may not be able to hire and retain these personnel at compensation levels consistent with our existing compensation and salary structure. Some of the companies with which we compete for experienced employees have greater resources than we have and may be able to offer more attractive terms of employment.
In addition, we invest significant time and expenses in training our employees, which increases their value to competitors who may seek to recruit them. If we fail to retain our employees, we could incur significant expenses in hiring and training their replacements, and the quality of our services and our ability to serve our customers could diminish, resulting in a material adverse effect to our business.
Our operating results may fluctuate, which could make our future results difficult to predict, and may fall below investor or analyst expectations.
Our operating results may fluctuate due to a variety of factors, including many of the risks described in this section, which are outside of our control. You should not rely on our operating results for any prior periods as an indication of our future operating performance. Fluctuations in our net revenue can lead to even greater fluctuations in our operating results. Our budgeted expense levels depend in part on our expectations of long-term future net revenue. Given relatively large fixed cost of revenue for services, other than utility costs, any substantial adjustment to our costs to account for lower than expected levels of net revenue will be difficult. Consequently, if our net revenue does not meet projected levels, our operating performance will be negatively affected. If our net revenue or operating results do not meet or exceed the expectations of investors or securities analysts, the price of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares may decline.
Declining fixed asset valuations could result in impairment charges, the determination of which involves a significant amount of judgment on our part. Any impairment charge could have a material adverse effect on us.
We review our fixed assets for impairment on an annual basis and whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount may not be recoverable. Indicators of impairment include, but are not limited to, a sustained significant decrease in the market price of or the cash flows expected to be derived from a property. A significant amount of judgment is involved in determining the presence of an indicator of impairment. If the total of the expected undiscounted future cash flows is less than the carrying amount of a property on our balance sheet, a loss is recognized for the difference between the fair value and carrying value of the asset. The evaluation of anticipated cash flows requires a significant amount of judgment regarding assumptions that could differ materially from actual results in future periods, including assumptions regarding future occupancy, contract rates and estimated costs to service the contracts. Any impairment charge could have a material adverse effect on us.
We may fail to acquire land use rights according to our investment and framework agreements and failure to commence or resume development of land that we have been granted right to use within the required timeframe or to fulfill the investment commitments under the land use right grant contracts and/or investment/framework agreements may cause us to lose such land use rights and subject us to liabilities under land use right grant contracts and investment/framework agreements.
We have entered into, and may enter into additional, binding investment and framework agreements to reserve or acquire land use rights. The reservation or acquisition of land use rights under such investment and framework agreements are usually subject to certain grant conditions and subsequently entering into a land use right grant contract through relevant tender, auction or listing-for-sale procedures, and we cannot assure you that all these grant conditions will be satisfied or that ultimately we will be able to enter into the land use right grant contract, or that we will indeed acquire the land use right under the relevant investment and framework agreement.
Contracts for the grant of land use rights and some of the investment/framework agreements that we have entered into with the local governments as well as PRC regulations provide for the timeframe within which we are obligated to carry out the construction projects on the land parcels under these contracts and/or agreements. According to the relevant PRC regulations, the PRC government may impose an “idle land fee” equal to 20% of the land fees on land use if the relevant construction land has been identified as “idle land.” The construction land may be identified as “idle land” under any of the following circumstances: (i) where development of and construction on the land fails to commence for more than one year from the construction commencement date prescribed in the land grant contract; or (ii) the development and construction on the land have commenced but have been suspended when the area of the developed land is less than one-third of the total area to be developed or the invested amount is less than 25% of the total amount of investment, and the suspension of development attains for one year. Furthermore, the PRC government has the authority to confiscate any land without compensation if the construction does not commence within two years after the construction commencement date specified in the land grant contract, unless the delay is caused by force majeure, governmental action or preliminary work necessary for the commencement of construction. In addition, these contracts and agreements usually provide for certain investment commitments (such as total investment amount and amount of revenues and taxes generated by the investment projects on the land parcels). We may lose the land use rights and be subject to other liabilities under the land use right grant contracts and the investment/framework agreements if we fail to commence or resume development of land that we have been granted right to use within the required timeframe or to fulfill the investment commitments under the land use right grant contracts and/or investment/framework agreements.
For example, we have two parcels of land, one in Chengdu and one in Kunshan, over which we have obtained land use rights, but which may be treated as “idle land” by the respective local government authorities. We suspended the development of one parcel of land in Chengdu after completion of the construction of the then existing buildings thereon in November 2010, and upon such suspension, the area of the developed land was less than one third of the total land area. The development of one parcel of land in Kunshan was not timely commenced before the December 2012 deadline. We have received approvals from the local government authorities to commence construction on the rest of such land parcel in Chengdu and the parcel of land in Kunshan, respectively, and we commenced construction after receiving such approvals. As of December 31, 2020, we have obtained the property ownership certificate of the data centers on the parcel in Kunshan, and made progress in construction on the parcel in Chengdu. Our PRC legal counsel, based on their consultation with the local authorities, has advised us that it is unlikely the local authorities will order penalties against us or require us to forfeit the relevant land by invoking the laws and regulations in relation to “idle land” or for breach of relevant land use right grant contracts and/or the investment/framework agreements.
We have not been subject to any penalties or required to forfeit any land as a result of failing to commence or resume development or fulfill the relevant investment commitments we made pursuant to the relevant land grant contracts and/or the investment/framework agreements. However, we cannot assure you that we will not be subject to penalties as a result of any failure to commence development or fulfill our investment commitments in accordance with the relevant land grant contracts and/or the investment/framework agreements in the future. If this occurs, our financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We may experience impairment of goodwill in connection with our acquisition of entities.
We are required to perform an annual goodwill impairment test. As of December 31, 2020, we carried RMB2,596.4 million (US$397.9 million) of goodwill on our balance sheet. However, goodwill can become impaired. We test goodwill for impairment annually or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate possible impairment, but the fair value estimates involved require a significant amount of difficult judgment and assumptions. We may not achieve the anticipated benefits of the acquisitions, which may result in the need to recognize impairment of some or all of the goodwill we recorded.
We are subject to anti-corruption laws of China and Hong Kong as well as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Our failure to comply with these laws could result in penalties, which could harm our reputation and have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We operate our business in China and Hong Kong and are thus subject to PRC and Hong Kong laws and regulations related to anti-corruption, which prohibit bribery to government agencies, state or government owned or controlled enterprises or entities, to government officials or officials that work for state or government owned enterprises or entities, as well as bribery to non-government entities or individuals. We are also subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or the FCPA, which generally prohibits companies and any individuals or entities acting on their behalf from offering or making improper payments or providing benefits to foreign officials for the purpose of obtaining or keeping business, along with various other anti-corruption laws. Our existing policies prohibit any such conduct and we have implemented and conducted additional policies and procedures designed, and providing training, to ensure that we, our employees, business partners and other third parties comply with PRC anti-corruption laws and regulations, the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws to which we are subject. There is, however, no assurance that such policies or procedures will work effectively all the time or protect us against liability under the FCPA or other anti-corruption laws. There is no assurance that our employees, business partners and other third parties would always obey our policies and procedures. Further, there is discretion and interpretation in connection with the implementation of PRC anti-corruption laws. We could be held liable for actions taken by our employees, business partners and other third parties with respect to our business or any businesses that we may acquire. We operate in the data center services industry in China and generally purchase our colocation facilities and telecommunications resources from state or government-owned enterprises and sell our services domestically to customers that include state or government-owned enterprises or government ministries, departments and agencies. This puts us in frequent contact with persons who may be considered “foreign officials” under the FCPA, resulting in an elevated risk of potential FCPA violations. If we are found not to be in compliance with PRC anti-corruption laws, the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws governing the conduct of business with government entities, officials or other business counterparties, we may be subject to criminal, administrative, and civil penalties and other remedial measures, which could have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Any investigation of any potential violations of the FCPA or other anti-corruption laws by U.S., Chinese or Hong Kong authorities or the authorities of any other foreign jurisdictions, could adversely impact our reputation, cause us to lose customer sales and access to colocation facilities and telecommunications resources, and lead to other adverse impacts on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics and other outbreaks, which could significantly disrupt our operations.
On May 12, 2008 and April 14, 2010, severe earthquakes hit part of Sichuan Province in southwestern China and part of Qinghai Province in western China, respectively, resulting in significant casualties and property damage. While we did not suffer any loss or experience any significant increase in cost resulting from these earthquakes, if a similar disaster were to occur in the future that affected our Tier 1 markets or another city where we have data centers or are in the process of developing data centers, our operations could be materially and adversely affected due to loss of personnel and damages to property. In addition, a similar disaster affecting a larger, more developed area could also cause an increase in our costs resulting from the efforts to resurvey the affected area. Even if we are not directly affected, such a disaster could affect the operations or financial condition of our customers and suppliers, which could harm our results of operations.
In addition, our business could be materially and adversely affected by other natural disasters, such as snowstorms, typhoon, fires or floods, the outbreak of a widespread health epidemic or pandemic, such as swine flu, avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, Ebola, Zika, COVID-19, or other events, such as wars, acts of terrorism, environmental accidents, power shortage or communication interruptions. If any of our employees is suspected of having contracted any contagious disease, we may under certain circumstances be required to quarantine such employees and the affected areas of our premises. Therefore, we may have to temporarily suspend part of or all of our operations. Furthermore, any future outbreak may restrict economic activities in affected regions, resulting in temporary closure of our offices or prevent us and our customers from traveling. Such closures could severely disrupt our business operations and adversely affect our results of operations.
If we fail to maintain proper and effective internal controls, our ability to produce accurate financial statements on a timely basis could be impaired.
We are subject to the reporting requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the rules and regulations of Nasdaq. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal controls over financial reporting. Commencing with our year ended December 31, 2017, we have been obligated to perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal controls over financial reporting to allow management to report on the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting in our Form 20-F filing for that year, as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In addition, as of December 31, 2018, we ceased to be an “emerging growth company” as the term is defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or the JOBS Act, and our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. Even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent testing, may issue a report that is qualified if it is not satisfied with our internal controls or the level at which our controls are documented, designed, operated or reviewed, or if it interprets the relevant requirements differently from us. This has required and will continue to require us to incur substantial additional professional fees and internal costs to expand our accounting and finance functions and that we expend significant management efforts. We continue to enhance our accounting personnel and other resources to address our internal controls and procedures. We also continuously enhance our accounting procedures and internal controls.
In addition, our internal control over financial reporting will not prevent or detect all errors and all fraud. A control system, no matter how well designed and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the control system’s objectives will be met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that misstatements due to error or fraud will not occur or that all control issues and instances of fraud will be detected.
If we are not able to comply with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in a timely manner, or if we are unable to maintain proper and effective internal controls, we may not be able to produce timely and accurate financial statements. If that were to happen, the market price of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares could decline and we could be subject to sanctions or investigations by the SEC, Nasdaq, or other regulatory authorities.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our consolidated variable interest entities do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
The PRC government regulates telecommunications-related businesses through strict business licensing requirements and other government regulations. These laws and regulations also include limitations on foreign ownership of PRC companies that engage in telecommunications-related businesses. Specifically, foreign investors are not allowed to own more than a 50% equity interest in any PRC company engaging in value-added telecommunications businesses, with certain exceptions relating to certain categories which do not apply to us. Any such foreign investor must also have experience and a good track record in providing VATS overseas.
Because we are a Cayman Islands company, we are classified as a foreign enterprise under PRC laws and regulations, and our wholly owned PRC subsidiaries or PRC joint ventures are foreign-invested enterprises, or their subsidiaries. See List of Subsidiaries of the Registrant, Exhibit 8.1 to this annual report, for a complete list of our wholly owned subsidiaries and joint ventures incorporated in the PRC. To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we conduct our business in China through contractual arrangements with our consolidated variable interest entities and their shareholders. These contractual arrangements provide us with effective control over our consolidated VIEs, and enable us to receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our consolidated VIEs in consideration for the services provided by our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, and have an exclusive option to purchase all of the equity interest in our consolidated VIEs when permissible under PRC laws. See List of Subsidiaries of the Registrant, Exhibit 8.1 to this annual report, for a complete list of our consolidated VIEs. For a description of the contractual arrangements among GDS Investment Company, Management HoldCo, GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our Affiliated Consolidated Entities.”
We believe that our corporate structure and contractual arrangements comply with the current applicable PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC legal counsel, based on its understanding of the relevant laws and regulations, is of the opinion that each of the contracts among our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, our consolidated VIEs and their shareholders is valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with its terms. However, as there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of PRC laws and regulations, including the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, the telecommunications circular described above and the Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China, or the Telecommunications Regulations, and the relevant regulatory measures concerning the telecommunications industry, there can be no assurance that the PRC government, such as the MIIT, or other authorities that regulate providers of data center service and other participants in the telecommunications industry would agree that our corporate structure or any of the above contractual arrangements comply with PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future. PRC laws and regulations governing the validity of these contractual arrangements are uncertain and the relevant government authorities have broad discretion in interpreting these laws and regulations.
If our corporate and contractual structure is deemed by the MIIT, MOFCOM or other regulators having competent authority to be illegal, either in whole or in part, we may lose control of our consolidated VIEs and have to modify such structure to comply with regulatory requirements as interpreted by such authorities. However, there can be no assurance that we can achieve this without material disruption to our business. Further, if our corporate and contractual structure is found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
|●||revoking our business and operating licenses;|
|●||levying fines on us;|
|●||confiscating any of our income that they deem to be obtained through illegal operations;|
|●||shutting down a portion or all of our networks and servers;|
|●||discontinuing or restricting our operations in China;|
|●||imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us to restructure our corporate and contractual structure;|
|●||restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds from overseas offering to finance our PRC consolidated VIEs’ business and operations; and|
|●||taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.|
Furthermore, new PRC laws, rules and regulations may be introduced to impose additional requirements that may be applicable to our corporate structure and contractual arrangements. See “—Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.” Occurrence of any of these events could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, if the imposition of any of these penalties or requirement to restructure our corporate structure causes us to lose the rights to direct the activities of our consolidated VIEs or our right to receive their economic benefits, we would no longer be able to consolidate in our consolidated financial statements such VIEs. However, we do not believe that such actions would result in the liquidation or dissolution of our company, our wholly-owned subsidiaries in China or our consolidated VIEs or their subsidiaries. For the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, our consolidated VIEs contributed 97.2%, 97.4% and 95.0%, respectively, of our total net revenue.
Our contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs may result in adverse tax consequences to us.
We could face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that our contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs were not made on an arm’s length basis and adjust our income and expenses for PRC tax purposes by requiring a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could adversely affect us by (i) increasing the tax liabilities of our consolidated VIEs without reducing the tax liability of our subsidiaries, which could further result in late payment fees and other penalties to our consolidated VIEs for underpaid taxes; or (ii) limiting the ability of our consolidated VIEs to obtain or maintain preferential tax treatments and other financial incentives.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their shareholders for our China operations, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and otherwise have a material adverse effect as to our business.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their shareholders to operate our business in China. The shareholders of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai were Mr. Huang, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, and his relative. In order to further improve our control over our variable interest entities, reduce key man risks associated with having certain individuals be the equity holders of the variable interest entities, and address the uncertainty resulting from any potential disputes between us and the individual equity holders of the variable interest entities that may arise, we have completed enhancing the structure of our variable interest entities and certain other variable interest entities, or the VIE Enhancement. As part of the VIE Enhancement, the entire equity interests of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai have been transferred from Mr. Huang and his relative to a holding company, Management HoldCo. The entire equity interest in Management HoldCo is held by a number of management personnel designated by our board of directors. In conjunction with the transfer of legal ownership, GDS Investment Company, one of our subsidiaries, entered into a series of contractual arrangements with Management HoldCo, its shareholders, GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai to replace the previous contractual arrangements with GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai on substantially the same terms under such previous contractual arrangements. We also replaced the sole director of GDS Shanghai and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing with a board of three directors. Mr. Huang acts as the chairman of the boards of directors of Management HoldCo, GDS Investment Company, GDS Beijing, and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai. Other management members of us and board appointees serve as directors and officers of Management HoldCo, GDS Investment Company, GDS Beijing, and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai.
For a description of the abovementioned contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company— C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our Affiliated Consolidated Entities.” In 2018, 2019 and 2020, 97.2%, 97.4% and 95.0% of our total net revenue, respectively, were attributed to our consolidated VIEs. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—A. History and Development of the Company.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our consolidated VIEs. If our consolidated VIEs or their shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, our recourse to the assets held by our consolidated VIEs is indirect and we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce such arrangements in reliance on legal remedies under PRC law. These remedies may not always be effective, particularly in light of uncertainties in the PRC legal system. Furthermore, in connection with litigation, arbitration or other judicial or dispute resolution proceedings, assets under the name of any of record holder of equity interest in our consolidated VIEs, including such equity interest, may be put under court custody. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that the equity interest will be disposed pursuant to the contractual arrangement or ownership by the record holder of the equity interest.
All of these contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in the PRC. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC laws and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal environment in the PRC is not as developed as in other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant time delays or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, it would be very difficult to exert effective control over our consolidated VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business and our financial condition and results of operation may be materially and adversely affected. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China—There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.”
The individual management shareholders of our Management HoldCo may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
In connection with our operations in China, we rely on the individual management shareholders of our Management HoldCo to abide by the obligations under such contractual arrangements. In particular, GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai are wholly-owned by Management HoldCo, which, as of March 31, 2021, is in turn owned by five individual management shareholders designated by our board, each holding 20% equity interest in Management HoldCo, namely Yilin Chen (senior vice president, product and service), Yan Liang (senior vice president, operation and delivery), Liang Chen (senior vice president, data center design), Andy Wenfeng Li (general counsel, compliance officer, and company secretary) and Qi Wang (head of cloud and network business) (together referred as “Individual Management Shareholders”). The interests of such Individual Management Shareholders in their individual capacities as the shareholders of Management HoldCo may differ from the interests of our company as a whole, as what is in the best interests of Management HoldCo, including matters such as whether to distribute dividends or to make other distributions to fund our offshore requirement, may not be in the best interests of our company. There can be no assurance that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these individuals will act in the best interests of our company or that conflicts of interest will be resolved in our favor. In addition, these individuals may breach or cause our consolidated VIEs to breach or refuse to renew the existing contractual arrangements with us.
Currently, we do not have arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest the Individual Management Shareholders may encounter; provided that we could, at all times, exercise our option under the exclusive call option agreements to cause them to transfer all of their equity ownership in Management HoldCo to a PRC entity or individual designated by us as permitted by the then applicable PRC laws. In addition, if such conflicts of interest arise, we could also, in the capacity of attorney-in-fact of the then existing shareholders of Management HoldCo as provided under the shareholder voting rights proxy agreements, directly appoint new directors of Management HoldCo. We rely on the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs to comply with PRC laws and regulations, which protect contracts and provide that directors and executive officers owe a duty of loyalty to our company and require them to avoid conflicts of interest and not to take advantage of their positions for personal gains, and the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors and executive officers have a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to act honestly in good faith with a view to our best interests. However, the legal frameworks of China and Cayman Islands do not provide guidance on resolving conflicts in the event of a conflict with another corporate governance regime. If we cannot resolve any conflicts of interest or disputes between us and the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
In order to enhance corporate governance and facilitate administration of its VIEs, we have also replaced the sole director of GDS Shanghai and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing with a board of three directors. Mr. Huang acts as the chairman of the boards of directors of Management HoldCo, GDS Investment Company, GDS Beijing and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai. Other management members of us and board appointees serve as directors and officers of Management HoldCo., GDS Investment Company, GDS Beijing, and certain subsidiaries of GDS Beijing and GDS Shanghai. These enhancements to the corporate governance and management of our VIEs may help to mitigate some of the conflict of interest and other risks detailed above; however, we cannot assure you that the enhancements will be effective in preventing or mitigating such risks.
Our corporate actions are substantially controlled by our principal shareholders, including our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Mr. Huang, who have the ability to control or exert significant influence over important corporate matters that require approval of shareholders, which may deprive you of an opportunity to receive a premium for your ADSs and/or ordinary shares and materially reduce the value of your investment.
Our amended articles of association provide that Class B ordinary shares are entitled to 20 votes per ordinary share at general meetings of our shareholders with respect to the election or removal of a simple majority of our directors. Mr. Huang beneficially owns 100% of the Class B ordinary shares issued and outstanding, and any additional Class A ordinary shares which Mr. Huang directly or indirectly acquires may be converted into Class B ordinary shares. In addition, for so long as there are Class B ordinary shares outstanding, the Class B shareholders are entitled (i) to nominate one less than a simple majority, or five, of our directors, and (ii) to have 20 votes per ordinary share with respect to the election and removal of a simple majority, or six, of our directors. In addition, our amended articles of association provide that STT GDC (a wholly owned subsidiary of STT Communications Ltd., or STTC, which is in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Telemedia Pte Ltd, or ST Telemedia), has the right to appoint up to three directors to our board of directors for so long as they beneficially own certain percentages of our issued share capital. Such appointments will not be subject to a vote by our shareholders. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees—C. Board Practices—Appointment, Nomination and Terms of Directors.”
Furthermore, as of March 31, 2021, two of our principal shareholders—STT GDC and Mr. Huang, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer—beneficially owned approximately 34.5% of our outstanding Class A ordinary shares and 100% of our outstanding Class B ordinary shares, respectively. On matters where Class A and Class B ordinary shares vote on a 1:1 basis, STT GDC exercises 32.2% of the aggregate voting power. On matters where Class A and Class B ordinary shares vote on a 1:20 basis, Mr. Huang exercises 49.3% of the aggregate voting power.
As a result of these appointment rights, nomination rights, dual-class ordinary share structure and ownership concentration, these shareholders have the ability to control or exert significant influence over important corporate matters, investors may be prevented from affecting important corporate matters involving our company that require approval of shareholders, including:
|●||the composition of our board of directors and, through it, any determinations with respect to our operations, business direction and policies, including the appointment and removal of officers;|
|●||any determinations with respect to mergers or other business combinations;|
|●||our disposition of substantially all of our assets; and|
|●||any change in control.|
These actions may be taken even if they are opposed by our other shareholders, including the holders of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares. We have granted special rights to STT GDC and certain of our other shareholders. The rights granted to STT GDC include an anti-dilution right, directors’ appointment rights, right to requisition an extraordinary general meeting, committee rights, registration rights and information rights, which enable STT GDC to maintain its significant shareholding in and influence over our Company. In particular, STT GDC’s anti-dilution right entitles it to subscribe for up to a 35% pro rata ordinary share of future issuances of equity or equity linked securities by our Company any time within 18 months following June 26, 2020. We have also granted registration rights to certain other shareholders, including STT GDC, Hillhouse Capital and PA Goldilocks Limited, an affiliate of China Ping An Insurance Overseas (Holdings) Limited (a subsidiary of Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China). If any shareholders exercise their registration rights, we will incur costs and be required to divert management attention and resources associated with facilitating the registration of their ordinary shares. We have also granted Ping An Overseas Holdings the right to designate an observer to join meetings of our board of directors, subject to maintaining its shareholders at or above a specified percentage threshold.
Furthermore, this concentration of ownership may also discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could have the dual effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to receive a premium for their ordinary shares as part of a sale of our company and reducing the price of the ADSs and/or ordinary shares. As a result of the foregoing, the value of your investment could be materially reduced.
If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling non-tangible assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts such as the leases and sales contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant local branch of the SAIC. We generally execute legal documents by affixing chops or seals, rather than having the designated legal representatives sign the documents.
We have three major types of chops—corporate chops, contract chops and finance chops. We use corporate chops generally for documents to be submitted to government agencies, such as applications for changing business scope, directors or company name, and for legal letters. We use contract chops for executing leases and commercial, contracts. We use finance chops generally for making and collecting payments, including, but not limited to issuing invoices. Use of corporate chops and contract chops must be approved by our legal department and administrative department, and use of finance chops must be approved by our finance department. The chops of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs are generally held by the relevant entities so that documents can be executed locally. Although we usually utilize chops to execute contracts, the registered legal representatives of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs have the apparent authority to enter into contracts on behalf of such entities without chops, unless such contracts set forth otherwise.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops, we generally have them stored in secured locations accessible only to the designated key employees of our legal, administrative or finance departments. Our designated legal representatives generally do not have access to the chops. Although we have approval procedures in place and monitor our key employees, including the designated legal representatives of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs, the procedures may not be sufficient to prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. There is a risk that our key employees or designated legal representatives could abuse their authority, for example, by binding our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs with contracts against our interests, as we would be obligated to honor these contracts if the other contracting party acts in good faith in reliance on the apparent authority of our chops or signatures of our legal representatives. If any designated legal representative obtains control of the chop in an effort to obtain control over the relevant entity, we would need to have a shareholder or board resolution to designate a new legal representative and to take legal action to seek the return of the chop, apply for a new chop with the relevant authorities, or otherwise seek legal remedies for the legal representative’s misconduct. If any of the designated legal representatives obtains and misuses or misappropriates our chops and seals or other controlling intangible assets for whatever reason, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal action, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve while distracting management from our operations, and our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress adopted the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020 and replaced three existing laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Wholly Foreign-Invested Enterprise Law of the PRC, the Sino-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law of the PRC and the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law of the PRC, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. On December 26, 2019, the State Council issued the Regulations on Implementing the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2020, and replaced the Regulations on Implementing the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law of the PRC, Provisional Regulations on the Duration of Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Regulations on Implementing the Wholly Foreign-Invested Enterprise Law of the PRC, and the Regulations on Implementing the Sino-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law of the PRC. The 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments. However, since it is relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to its interpretation and implementation. For example, the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law adds a catch-all clause to the definition of “foreign investment” so that foreign investment, by its definition, includes “investments made by foreign investors in China through other means defined by other laws or administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the State Council” without further elaboration on the meaning of “other means.” It leaves leeway for future legislations to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. It is therefore uncertain whether our corporate structure will be seen as violating the foreign investment rules as we are currently leveraging the contractual arrangements to operate certain businesses in which foreign investors are prohibited from or restricted to investing. Furthermore, if future legislations mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. If we fail to take appropriate and timely measures to comply with any of these or similar regulatory compliance requirements, our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China
Changes in the political and economic policies of the PRC government may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in the PRC and a substantial majority of our net revenue is sourced from the PRC. Accordingly, our financial condition and results of operations are affected to a significant extent by economic, political and legal developments in the PRC.
The PRC economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the extent of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, and control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the PRC government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the government. In addition, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth by allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, regulating financial services and institutions and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past three decades, such growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall PRC economy, but may also have a negative effect on us. Our financial condition and results of operation could be materially and adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations that are applicable to us. In addition, the PRC government has implemented in the past certain measures to control the pace of economic growth. These measures may cause decreased economic activity, which in turn could lead to a reduction in demand for our services and consequently have a material adverse effect on our businesses, financial condition and results of operations.
There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in the PRC, and are governed by PRC laws, rules and regulations. Our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs are subject to laws, rules and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws, rules and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investment in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to significant degrees of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the nonbinding nature of such decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator significant discretion in how to enforce them, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may change from time to time and have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation. For example, although under the PRC Anti-monopoly Law, companies conducting certain investments and acquisitions relating to businesses in China must file with the anti-monopoly enforcement agency, in advance of any transaction where the parties’ revenues exceed certain thresholds and the buyer would obtain control of, or decisive influence over, the other party, it has been long debated in the past whether transactions involving companies with a VIE structure, including us, are subject to such prior filing requirements, namely filing of notification of concentration of undertaking. However, the enforcement of notification of concentration of undertaking filing requirement by companies with a VIE structure has been strengthening recently. In April 2020, the SAMR, which is the anti-monopoly enforcement agency, published a case of concentration of undertaking where a VIE structure was involved (such case was closed in July 2020 and unconditional approval was granted). In December 2020, the SAMR, for the first time, formally penalized three internet companies with a VIE structure for failure to make the filing. Since then, the SAMR has been reviewing historical cases of concentrations of undertaking of certain major internet companies with a VIE structure, and past failure to file prior notification of concentrations of undertaking may be investigated and penalized. Although we have not received any investigation or enquiry from the SAMR related to the filing of notification of concentration of undertaking, there can be no assurance that we will not be subject to such enquiries or any penalty in connection with any such enquiry in the future. Any failure or perceived failure to comply with the anti-monopoly laws and regulations, as well as the related government policies and guidance, by us or our top customers, may result in governmental investigations or enforcement actions, litigations or claims against us or our top customers and could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our business operations are extensively impacted by the policies and regulations of the PRC government. Any policy or regulatory change may cause us to incur significant compliance costs.
We are subject to extensive national, provincial and local governmental regulations, policies and controls. Central governmental authorities and provincial and local authorities and agencies regulate many aspects of Chinese industries, including without limitation, among others and in addition to specific industry-related regulations, the following aspects:
|●||construction or development of new data centers or renovation, rebuilding or expansion of existing data centers;|
|●||banking regulations, as a result of the colocation services we provide to banks and financial institutions, including regulations governing the use of subcontractors in the management and maintenance of facilities;|
|●||environmental protection laws and regulations;|
|●||security laws and regulations;|
|●||establishment of or changes in shareholder of foreign investment enterprises;|
|●||taxes, duties and fees;|
|●||land planning and land use rights;|
|●||energy conservation and emission reduction; and|
|●||cyber security and information protection laws and regulations, including the Cyber Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, or the Cyber Security Law, and the Administrative Measures for the Graded Protection of Information Security.|
The liabilities, costs, obligations and requirements associated with these laws and regulations may be material, may delay the commencement of operations at our new data centers or cause interruptions to our operations. Failure to comply with the relevant laws and regulations in our operations may result in various penalties, including, among others the suspension of our operations and thus adversely and materially affect our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations. While we have endeavored to comply with the relevant laws and regulations in the development and operation of our data centers, we may incur additional costs in order to fulfill such requirements, and we cannot assure you that we have complied with, or will comply with the requirements of all relevant laws and regulations (including obtaining of all relevant approvals required for the development and operation of data centers). Additionally, there can be no assurance that the relevant government agencies will not change such laws or regulations or impose additional or more stringent laws or regulations. For example, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulatory Matters—Regulations Related to Information Technology Outsourcing Services Provided to Banking Financial Institutions” for information regarding regulations of banking and financial institutions that outsource their data center services to us, and “—Regulations Related to Land Use Rights” for information regarding restrictions on the new construction or expansion of data centers within the boundaries of the Beijing municipality. We cannot assure you that we will comply with the requirements of all new laws and regulations. For example, the PRC Civil Code, which was passed on May 28, 2020 by the National People’s Congress and became effective in January 2021, replaces among other laws, the General Provisions of the PRC Civil Law, the PRC Marriage Law, the PRC Guarantee Law, the PRC Contract Law, the PRC Property Law and the PRC Tort Liability Law. It remains to be seen how the PRC Civil Code will be implemented and enforced in practice. In addition, in March 2021, the National People’s Congress published the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for the National Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China and the Outline of the Long-term Goals for 2035, according to which the PRC government aims to reach the goal of achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by offsetting emissions of carbon dioxide by 2060, namely carbon neutrality, through various measures including afforestation, energy conservation and emission reduction. To achieve the carbon neutrality goal, the PRC government may promulgate more laws and regulations in the future. Compliance with such laws or regulations may require us to incur material capital expenditures or other obligations or liabilities.
Additionally, the Cyber Security Law came into effect on June 1, 2017, which provides certain rules and requirements applicable to network service providers in China. The Cyber Security Law requires network operators to perform certain functions related to cyber security protection and the strengthening of network information management through taking technical and other necessary measures as required by laws and regulations to safeguard the operation of networks, responding to network security effectively, preventing illegal and criminal activities, and maintaining the integrity and confidentiality and usability of network data. In addition, the Cyber Security Law imposes certain requirements on network operators of critical information infrastructure (CII). For example, network operators of critical information infrastructure generally shall, during their operations in the PRC, store the personal information and important data collected and produced within the territory of PRC, and shall perform certain security obligations as required under the Cyber Security Law. However, the Cyber Security Law still leaves a series of gaps to be filled due to the complex and sensitive nature of this regulatory area. While the Cyber Security law sets out a broad set of principles, certain key terms and clauses are uncertain and ambiguous, which appear intended to be clarified through a series of laws, implementing regulations and guidelines to be issued by relevant authorities. For example, data security laws and implementing regulations dealing with “personal information protection,” “security assessment of cross-border transfer of personal information and important data” and “protection of critical information infrastructure” are being formulated. Currently, the Cyber Security Law has not directly impacted our operations, but in light of rapid advances in its implementation, we believe the implementation of the Cyber Security Law involves potential risks to our business because we may be deemed as the network operator of critical information infrastructure thereunder. We have formulated a cyber security management policy and information security management guidelines to comply with the requirements under the Cyber Security Law. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Environmental and Operational Sustainability Initiatives—Information security” for details on measures we have taken to manage information security risk. However, we cannot assure you that the measures we have taken or will take are adequate under the Cyber Security Law, and we may be held liable in the event of any breach of the relevant requirements under the Cyber Security Law or other relevant laws and regulations. We may also be held liable in the event of any breach of general clauses on our compliance with such statutory requirements as well as some other specific requirements related to data protection under the relevant customer contracts. If further changes in our business practices are required under China’s evolving regulatory framework for the protection of information in cyberspace, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
The approval of the CSRC may be required under a PRC regulation. The regulation also establishes more complex procedures for acquisitions conducted by foreign investors that could make it more difficult for us to grow through acquisitions.
On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including MOFCOM, the SASAC, the State Administration of Taxation, or the STA, the SAIC, the CSRC, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, jointly adopted the M&A Rules, which came into effect on September 8, 2006 and were amended on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rules include, among other things, provisions that purport to require that an offshore special purpose vehicle formed for the purpose of an overseas listing of securities in a PRC company obtain the approval of the CSRC prior to the listing and trading of such special purpose vehicle’s securities on an overseas stock exchange. On September 21, 2006, the CSRC published on its official website procedures regarding its approval of overseas listings by special purpose vehicles. However, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the scope and applicability of the M&A Rules to offshore special purpose vehicles.
While the application of the M&A Rules remains unclear, we believe, based on the advice of our PRC counsel, King & Wood Mallesons, that the CSRC approval was not required in the context of our initial public offering or follow-on public offerings because we had not acquired any equity interests or assets of a PRC company owned by its Controlling Shareholders or beneficial owners who are PRC companies or individuals, as such terms are defined under the M&A Rules. There can be no assurance that the relevant PRC government agencies, including the CSRC, would reach the same conclusion as our PRC counsel. If the CSRC or another PRC regulatory body subsequently determines that its approval was needed for our initial public offering or follow-on public offerings or such approval is needed for any future offerings, we may face adverse actions or sanctions by the CSRC or other PRC regulatory agencies. In any such event, these regulatory agencies may impose fines and penalties on our operations in China, limit our operating privileges in China, delay or restrict the repatriation of the proceeds from our initial public offering or follow-on public offerings into the PRC or take other actions that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, reputation and prospects, as well as the trading price of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares.
The regulations also established additional procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise, or that the approval from MOFCOM be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. We may grow our business in part by acquiring other companies operating in our industry. Complying with the requirements of the new regulations to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from MOFCOM, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulatory Matters—Regulations Related to M&A and Overseas Listings.”
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our PRC-resident beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, on July 4, 2014, which replaced the former circular commonly known as “SAFE Circular 75” promulgated by SAFE on October 21, 2005. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents to register with local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In the event that a PRC shareholder holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiary. Moreover, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls. According to the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Policies for the Foreign Exchange Administration of Direct Investment released on February 13, 2015 by SAFE, local banks will examine and handle foreign exchange registration for overseas direct investment, including the initial foreign exchange registration and amendment registration, under SAFE Circular 37 from June 1, 2015.
Mr. Huang has completed the initial SAFE registration pursuant to SAFE Circular 75 in 2012, and is in the process of applying for amendment of such registration. We have notified substantial beneficial owners of ordinary shares who we know are PRC residents of their filing obligation. Nevertheless, we may not be aware of the identities of all of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents. We do not have control over our beneficial owners and there can be no assurance that all of our PRC-resident beneficial owners will comply with SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, and there is no assurance that the registration under SAFE Circular 37 and any amendment will be completed in a timely manner or will be completed at all. The failure of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents to register or amend their foreign exchange registrations in a timely manner pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, may subject such beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to fines and legal sanctions. Failure to register or comply with relevant requirements may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to our company. These risks may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding our employee share incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in share incentive plans in overseas non-publicly-listed companies due to their position as director, senior management or employees of the PRC subsidiaries of the overseas companies may submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose companies. Our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC residents and who were granted options may follow SAFE Circular 37 to apply for the foreign exchange registration before our company became an overseas listed company. Since our company became an overseas listed company upon completion of our initial public offering, we and directors, executive officers and other employees of our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and who have been granted options have been subject to the Notice on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, issued by SAFE in February 2012, or SAFE Circular 7, according to which, among others, employees, directors, supervisors and other management members of PRC companies participating in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company who are domestic individuals as defined therein are required to register and make regular periodic filings with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. One of our subsidiaries, as the domestic qualified agent, has completed the registration under SAFE Circular 7 for our share incentive plans and we are making efforts to comply with these requirements stipulated in SAFE Circular 7. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations or meet other requirements may subject relevant participants in our share incentive plans to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit the ability to make payment under our share incentive plans or receive dividends or sales proceeds related thereto, or our ability to contribute additional capital into our wholly-foreign owned enterprises in China and limit our wholly-foreign owned enterprises’ ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional share incentive plans for our directors and employees under PRC law.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigation or collect evidence within China.
There are significant legal and other obstacles in China to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigation initiated by regulators outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States involves uncertainty. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigation, evidence collection and other activities within the territory of the PRC. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an overseas securities regulator to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties faced by you in protecting your interests.
The enforcement of the Labor Contract Law of the People’s Republic of China, or the PRC Labor Contract Law, and other labor-related regulations in the PRC may increase our labor costs, impose limitations on our labor practices and adversely affect our business and our results of operations.
On June 29, 2007, the SCNPC enacted the PRC Labor Contract Law, which became effective on January 1, 2008 and was amended on December 28, 2012. The PRC Labor Contract Law introduces specific provisions related to fixed-term employment contracts, part-time employment, probation, consultation with labor unions and employee assemblies, employment without a written contract, dismissal of employees, severance, and collective bargaining, which together represent enhanced enforcement of labor laws and regulations. According to the PRC Labor Contract Law, an employer is obliged to sign an unfixed-term labor contract with any employee who has worked for the employer for 10 consecutive years. Further, if an employee requests or agrees to renew a fixed-term labor contract that has already been entered into twice consecutively, the resulting contract must have an unfixed term, with certain exceptions. The employer must pay economic compensation to an employee where a labor contract is terminated or expires in accordance with the PRC Labor Contract Law, except for certain situations which are specifically regulated. In addition, the government has issued various labor-related regulations to further protect the rights of employees. According to such laws and regulations, employees are entitled to annual leave ranging from five to 15 days and are able to be compensated for any untaken annual leave days in the amount of three times their daily salary, subject to certain exceptions. In the event that we decide to change our employment or labor practices, the PRC Labor Contract Law and its implementation rules may also limit our ability to effect those changes in a manner that we believe to be cost-effective. In addition, as the interpretation and implementation of these new regulations are still evolving, our employment practices may not be at all times deemed in compliance with the new regulations. If we are subject to severe penalties or incur significant liabilities in connection with labor disputes or investigations, our business and financial conditions may be adversely affected.
We rely to a significant extent on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries to fund offshore cash and financing requirements.
We are a holding company and rely to a significant extent on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries and on remittances from the consolidated VIEs, for our offshore cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders, fund inter-company loans, service any debt we may incur outside of China and pay our expenses. When our principal operating subsidiaries or the consolidated VIEs incur additional debt, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions or remittances to us. Furthermore, the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our PRC subsidiaries and certain other subsidiaries permit payments of dividends only out of their retained earnings, if any, determined in accordance with applicable accounting standards and regulations.
Under PRC laws, rules and regulations, each of our subsidiaries incorporated in China is required to set aside at least 10% of its net income each year to fund certain statutory reserves until the cumulative amount of such reserves reaches 50% of its registered capital. These reserves, together with the register