Why Weibo's IPO is expected to disappoint
Weibo's initial public offering is being called a disappointment before it even happens. The company, described by many as the "Chinese Twitter," reportedly raised $285 million in the offering by selling some 16 million shares at $17 a piece. It was initially expected to sell 20 million shares between $17 and $19 per share.
The decision to sell fewer shares at the bottom end of its price range has been blamed on a variety of factors. Bloomberg claims that it's because Weibo faces increasing competition in the Chinese market. Wired thinks that it's because investors are worried about censorship, which has plagued Weibo since its inception and was listed as a risk in its regulatory filing.
Weibo might find some hope in a partial owner: Alibaba. The IPO-bound commerce company owns around 32 percent of Weibo, and has been hailed as a potential savior for the company.
The Next Web notes that Alibaba has made Weibo part of its commerce platform:
Alibaba has already integrated its payment service into Weibo, and it will be interesting to watch how further integrations play out. Though Alibaba dominates e-commerce in China, rival Tencent is increasing its focus on e-commerce leveraging on its popular messaging service WeChat. It has backed Alibaba rival JD.com and integrated payments into WeChat, signaling its intention to increase its focus on e-commerce.
It remains to be seen exactly what Alibaba’s end goal with Weibo is — and why it didn’t buy it outright — but it is likely to be a key pillar in strengthening its business on social media and mobile. That can only be good for Weibo. The Wall Street Journal reports that some investors might be holding off on Weibo because they wish to purchase Alibaba shares, while others are buying Weibo stock now before Alibaba has a chance to acquire the company:
Some investors said that Weibo's IPO carried less appeal because they were also interested in buying Alibaba shares, which they said would give them enough exposure to Weibo.
Others, however, may bet that Alibaba's stake could presage a bigger relationship with Weibo in the future, or even a potential acquisition. 'The reason I would put in an order for it is the possibility that Alibaba buys the whole thing,' said one trader at a multibillion-dollar hedge fund who was considering playing the deal. Weibo isn't the only company affected by Alibaba's kiss of death. The company's performance has been boosting Yahoo's stock price for the last year, leading some to conclude that Yahoo's own shares are effectively worthless, and making industry observers fearful of its prospects.
The difference, of course, is that investors are purchasing Yahoo shares to get a piece of Alibaba. In this case, investors are planning to purchase Alibaba's shares to get a piece of Weibo. The details are different, but the result is the same: more attention for Alibaba and its future and less attention for the companies to which it is connected. As I said: a kiss of death.
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Quartz isn't particularly excited about Weibo's IPO, either:
Weibo’s less-than-stellar pre-IPO results will reinforce the doubts of anyone skeptical about its prospects. Weibo, whose name translates to “microblog,” has been eclipsed for some influential users in China by Tencent’s popular WeChat messaging service as the preferred place to discuss current events, and it hasn’t proven very amenable to the kind of brand advertising that is the mainstay of its US counterpart, Twitter.Reuters reports that Alibaba could go public on Monday:
Weibo will add to the list of Chinese companies flocking to the U.S. IPO market in their biggest numbers since 2010, drawn by soaring valuations for tech start-ups.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which invested $586 million for an 18 percent stake in Weibo, is expected to file for a widely anticipated share sale as early as Monday, according to sources.
Alibaba rival JD.com filed for a $1.5 billion U.S. listing in January. The New York Times notes that Weibo has fewer users than Twitter, and some less-than-stellar financial performance:
But Weibo’s I.P.O. prospectus revealed that the company’s growth isn’t quite as impressive as analysts and investors had expected.
While its revenue more than doubled last year, to $188.3 million, and its loss shrank to $38.1 million, according to the offering prospectus, its user base is far less than Twitter’s. Weibo claimed 143.8 million monthly active users as of March 31, compared with the American company’s 241 million.