IPOs: E-House Decorates Leju, Cheetah Chases $300 Million

 |  Includes: EJ, KSFTF, Z
by: Doug Young

The tide of Chinese firms rushing to list in the US continues, with big new moves coming from security software specialist Cheetah Mobile and Leju, a unit of online real estate agent E-House (NYSE:EJ). Cheetah has filed for a New York listing to raise a hefty $300 million, in what would have been considered a major deal just a half year ago but now looks rather routine in the current wave of new offers by Chinese tech firms. Meantime, E-House is continuing its own IPO drive for Leju, which has just announced a new tie-up that will allow its users to invest in US real estate.

I was initially skeptical when E-House first announced its listing plan for Leju last month, though a later tie-up with Internet giant Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY) and now this latest partnership with US counterpart Zillow (NASDAQ:Z) are making the offer look a bit more attractive. Meantime, Cheetah’s IPO plan looks quite ambitious, and is clearly designed to capitalize on the recent meteoric rise of Qihoo 360 (NYSE:QIHU), China’s first software security specialist to list in New York.

Let’s start with the Cheetah story, which began in January when the company’s Hong Kong-listed parent Kingsoft (OTCPK:KSFTF) first announced plans to spin off its security software unit for a separate New York listing. (previous post) Kingsoft is one of China’s leading private software companies and a widely respected name, which will undoubtedly bolster investor confidence towards Cheetah’s large listing.

According to its initial IPO filing, Cheetah earned a profit of $10 million on $124 million in sales last year, which don’t really look all that impressive. (English article) The $300 million fund-raising target looks rather large for a company of Cheetah’s size, and would have been unthinkable before the current wave of positive sentiment towards Chinese tech firms that began late last year.

That surge has seen Sina’s (NASDAQ:SINA) Weibo microblogging service recently file for a New York listing to raise $500 million, and e-commerce firm JD.com file for an even bigger $1.5 billion IPO. Cheetah is also hoping to ride the coattails of Qihoo 360, another security software specialist which has become a recent investor darling on the rapid rise of its newer online search business. Qihoo’s shares quadrupled last year, though they have more recently given back some of those gains.

From Cheetah, let’s move to Leju, which has just announced the new tie-up that will give its users access to Zillow’s US-based real estate services. (company announcement; English article) Under the partnership, the 2 sides will build a co-branded website for Chinese investors who want to buy US real estate. Such property has become a hot ticket for many wealthy Chinese investors who want to diversify beyond their own overheated domestic market.

This latest tie-up comes after E-House announced another new deal last month that will see Leju offer its real estate services through a new partnership with Tencent, China’s largest Internet company. (previous post) Under that deal, the pair will seek to offer Leju’s services over Tencent’s wildly popular WeChat mobile messaging platform, which boasts more than 350 million monthly active users.

Both of these offerings look potentially interesting, though each also has some serious drawbacks. Cheetah looks like a relatively small company to be making such a large offering, and its growth potential could be limited since Qihoo and several others in the security software space now give their products away for free. These 2 new Leju tie-ups also look interesting, though only time will tell if they actually produce any significant new revenue or they’re just pre-IPO hype. For all of these reasons, look for both offerings to get a solid but not hyper enthusiastic reception from investors when they start to market their shares.

Bottom line: Upcoming IPOs from security software maker Cheetah and real estate services Leju will get decent receptions, but uncertainties surrounding both will temper enthusiasm.