Chinese Dot-com IPOs Fading in 2015 After Record Year

Debut U.S. stock sales by Chinese Internet companies are poised to drop by about half from last year’s record as the pool of mature startups shrinks and their larger peers are more apt to provide them with needed funding.

About a half-dozen of the companies may hold initial public offerings in New York this year, according to analysts at 86Research Ltd., Rosenblatt Securities Inc., and JG Capital Corp. Among the most likely candidates are Dianping.com, a consumer review website akin to Yelp Inc. in the U.S., and Meituan.com, which runs a discount site similar to Groupon Inc., they said.

After about 60 Chinese Internet stock sales in the U.S. since 2000, including 12 IPOs last year, the biggest names in e-commerce, search, travel and social networking have already listed, leaving fewer nascent firms ready to go public. Startups looking for capital are finding a crowd of deep-pocketed companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. eager to invest in smaller rivals.

“Most of the Chinese Internet names that meet the criteria for an IPO have already listed,” Jun Zhang, the head of China equity research at Rosenblatt, said by phone Jan. 14. “Some companies have dropped IPO plans after being bought by top-ranked companies in the sector. The big guys’ acquisitions also made it harder for some startups to compete.”

UCWeb Inc., a Web browser maker and application distributor that had sought a public listing in 2012, scrapped that plan after Alibaba bought it last year, Zhang said.

Video streaming company PPStream Inc. was acquired by Baidu, owner of China’s biggest search engine, in June 2013 for $370 million. That buyout also put an end to its IPO plans, according to Ella Ji at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

Brand Recognition

“The acquired targets include both listed companies and unlisted companies which had originally planned for individual IPOs,” Ji said by phone on Jan. 14. “Some of the firms with relatively large customer bases and brand recognition, like Meituan and Dianping, may still want to go public on their own even with investments from top players, but it’s a different case for small ones.”

Hangzhou-based Alibaba last week became the majority shareholder in AdChina Ltd., an web-based advertising platform, without disclosing details of the transaction. AdChina withdrew its IPO application in February 2013 after it filed a prospectus a year earlier.

Hangzhou Kuaidi Technology Co., a mobile taxi-booking service provider, raised $600 million last week from a group of investors that was led by SoftBank Corp. and included its existing shareholder Alibaba. Kuaidi prefers to pursue an initial public offering rather than be taken over, the company said in July.

Review Site

Meituan.com, which started up in March 2010, has since attracted investments from companies including private-equity firm Sequoia Capital Operations LLC and Alibaba, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Dianping, the review website based in Shanghai, said its mobile app users surpassed 150 million as of June. Tencent Holdings Ltd., Asia’s second-largest Internet company by market value, purchased a stake of about 20 percent in the company in February. Its founder, Zhang Tao, said in an interview in October 2013 that the company may be worth more than $10 billion.

Each of the companies may plan to raise between $400 million and $600 million through their initial offerings, the analysts estimated.

Wowo Ltd., a platform for online stores of local lifestyle merchants, plans to raise $40 million, according to its Jan. 9 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Xiaomi Corp., a smartphone maker, the e-commerce unit of games developer NetEase Inc. and classifieds website Ganji.com are also among companies seeking IPOs this year, according to the analysts who track China’s Internet sector.

Investor Appetite

The biggest obstacle to more listings is poor market conditions, according to Chiheng Tan, an analyst at Granite Point Capital Inc., which invests in Chinese Internet companies.

“The supply of IPO companies isn’t an issue, and there are still a lot of good Internet companies in China,” he said by e-mail Jan. 15. “It all depends on the market appetite for Chinese companies. If the market can offer higher valuations than the private sector, many more companies will go public.”

U.S. investors still like “mid- and large-size deals, in particular technology companies and deals linked to the consumer,” said Josef Schuster, the founder of IPOX Schuster LLC in Chicago.

Record Year

A total of 14 Chinese companies went public in New York last year, raising $29 billion. That included the country’s two biggest e-commerce operators: Alibaba, which raised a record $25 billion and JD.com Inc., which sold $2 billion of stock.

Chinese IPOs this year will probably center around companies that connect online marketing business to brick-and-mortar stores, known as the online-to-offline segment, Ming Zhao, the founder of Hong Kong-based 86Research Ltd., said by phone Jan. 14.

“Mobile-based companies and makers of wearable devices should lead the next wave of IPOs,” he said. “But most of them are really small and it takes at least two to three years for them to become mature.”

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