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UPDATE 3-China shopping festival smashes record at halfway mark

From Reuters - November 10, 2017

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Alibaba (BABA.N), the Chinese e-commerce giant, said its Singles Day sales surged past last years total just after midday Saturday, hitting a record $18 billion, pointing to a likely giant haul for the worlds biggest shopping event.

Once a celebration for Chinas lonely hearts, Singles Day has become an annual 24-hour extravaganza that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, and acts as a barometer for Chinas consumers.

After a star-studded event in Shanghai late Friday to ring in the event, which is held each year on Nov. 11, the volume of goods sold on Alibabas platforms raced past a billion dollars in two minutes and hit $10 billion in just over an hour. The companys tills are set to shut at midnight Saturday.

At just past the halfway mark, the gross merchandise value swept past last years dollar total of $17.7 billion. Shortly afterwards, sales surpassed 120.7 billion yuan, the total in 2016 in the local currency, which has appreciated against the dollar in the past year.

The event gets shoppers around China scouting for bargains and loading up their online shopping carts, while delivery men - and robots - are braced for an estimated 1.5 billion parcels expected over the next six days.

This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy, Joseph Tsai, Ali Babas co-founder and vice chairman, said ahead of the sales bonanza. On Singles Day, shopping is a sport, its entertainment.

Tsai said rising disposable incomes of Chinas over 300 million middle-class consumers was helping drive the companys online sales - and would continue. This powerful group is propelling the consumption of China, he said.

Analysts and investors will closely watch the headline sales number, which last year rose by nearly a third at the eighth iteration of the event - though that was slower than the 60 percent increase logged in 2015.

At Alibabas Friday night gala, the companys co-founder and chairman, Jack Ma, hosted guests including the actress Nicole Kidman, singer Pharrell Williams and Chinese musicians and film stars such as Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing.

SLOWER GROWTH?

The excitement around the shopping blitz, however, masks the challenges facing Chinas online retailers such as Alibaba and JD.com Inc (JD.O), which are having to spend more to compete for shoppers in a broader economy where growth is slowing.

A lot of the lower hanging fruit has been picked and theres increased competition for a share of consumer spending, said Matthew Crabbe, Asia Pacific research director at Mintel.

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