Jumei, Sina Further Dampen IPO Fever

Includes: SINA, WB
by: Doug Young

New developments from leading web portal Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) and listing candidate Jumei are providing the latest signals that the heady market for Chinese IPOs is rapidly losing steam, potentially derailing many upcoming new offerings. Sina has just announced a massive share buyback to support its crumbling stock, just days before a rapidly weakening IPO for its Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) microblogging unit that could come as soon as this week. Meantime, online cosmetics seller Jumei has sharply scaled back the size of its original IPO plan, again hinting at rapidly weakening demand for shares of Chinese Internet companies.

This kind of change isn't all that unusual, since such windows of bullish sentiment typically do come in waves that can appear suddenly and then disappear just as quickly. What's different this time is the long period since the last window of positive sentiment, which came more than two years ago at the end of 2011. That means that a huge pipeline of companies waiting to list has built up during the period of negative sentiment, and many were hoping to finally capitalize on this sudden positive window that opened late last year.

Let's start with Sina, which has just announced a program to buy back up to $500 million worth of its shares. (company announcement) Sina's announcement comes as its shares have tumbled nearly 40 percent since their peak back in January, following a huge run-up in the second half of last year when the window of positive sentiment first started to return to Chinese Internet stocks.

Investors weren't too impressed with the new share buy-back plan, with Sina shares falling 1.3 percent after the announcement. In a somewhat strange twist, Sina just raised $700 million through a convertible bond offer in the second half of last year, meaning that much of the money it raised could now be used simply to buy its shares. Online travel agent Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP) has made similar moves, raising $800 million through a convertible bond offer last year, only to announce its own $600 million share buyback program 2 weeks ago. (previous post)

Market watchers will know that Sina's buyback plan comes as it prepares for a highly anticipated IPO for its Weibo microblogging unit, often called the Twitter of China. That offering is also coming under pressure following word a week ago that Sina had scaled back its original $500 million fund raising target by more than 10 percent. (previous post) Sina's latest buyback announcement hints at stormy waters ahead for the Weibo offering, which could come as soon as later this week.

Meantime, Jumei has also scaled back its own IPO plan, saying in its latest public filing that it aims to raise up to $400 million - down sharply from its previous target of up to $600 million. (Chinese article) Jumei has provided some financial information in its latest filing, which actually looks quite strong. The company turned profitable in 2012, and saw its profit triple last year to about $15.8 million. Revenue also more than doubled last year to $483 million.

If I were a long-term buyer, I would say these figures from Jumei, combined with its broader market position all look encouraging. The company is clearly the leader in the online cosmetics and personal care products market, which has huge growth potential as China's increasingly affluent consumers have extra money to spend on this kind of discretionary product. But the rapidly souring market sentiment toward Chinese Internet IPOs means that Jumei's shares could face an uphill climb in their march to market, and I wouldn't be surprised if the company's final fund raising figure ends up even lower than its reduced target, perhaps finally coming in around $300 million.

Bottom line: Sina's massive share buyback plan and Jumei's reduced fund-raising target are the latest signs of weakening investor sentiment toward Chinese IPOs in New York.