Separate reports about a new IPO by one company and potential exit from the Nasdaq by another are reflecting the mixed feelings that Chinese firms have for New York, where public listings can bring both prestige and also headaches. In the new listing category, media are reporting that yet another mobile game developer called iDreamSky has just made its first public filing for a New York IPO to raise up to $110 million. Meantime, other media are reporting that veteran online travel service eLong (Nasdaq: LONG) could be gearing up for a buy-out by much larger rival Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP).
New York markets have seen a steady stream of de-listings by Chinese firms over the last 2 years, as many mid-sized companies privatized due to lack of investor interest. Two of the biggest firms to launch privatization bids were gaming giants Shanda Games (Nasdaq: GAME) and Giant Interactive (Nasdaq: GA), reflecting intense competition in the sector that was dampening growth prospects and investor enthusiasm for these firms.
That weak sentiment hasn't deterred a newer generation of developers who focus on mobile games, with iDreamSky becoming the latest to seek an overseas listing over the last year. According to media reports, the Shenzhen-based company would make its listing on the Nasdaq and trade under the symbol DSKY. (Chinese article)
No financial information was immediately available on the company, though its CEO said earlier this year that the company was on track to become China's largest mobile game platform. Of course, we'll have to wait for some financials to make a better guess of how iDreamSky will do, though investors could get a hint by looking at the less-than-stellar record for other mobile game developers and operators to recently list.
One of the earliest to list was Sungy Mobile (Nasdaq: GOMO), whose shares nearly tripled after their New York IPO late last year. But since then the shares have given back nearly all their gains, and now trade just 18 percent above their IPO price. Shares of 2 recently listed Hong Kong companies, Ourgame (HKEx: 6899) and Forgame (HKEx: 484), are also both trading below their IPO levels (previous post).
Another player called Chukong had to actually scrap its New York IPO plan in May after meeting with lack of interest. (previous post) Facing such a negative recent climate for game developers and operators, iDreamSky looks quite bold to be moving ahead with an IPO, and I wouldn't expect the offering to generate much enthusiasm.
Next let's look briefly at eLong, one of China's oldest listed online travel sites, which appeared in headlines earlier this week after its shares suddenly jumped 20 percent one day. (previous post) I speculated that US travel giant Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE), eLong's longtime controlling stakeholder, might be preparing to launch a bid to buy out the company and de-list it.
Now media are citing unnamed sources saying that Ctrip, China's largest online travel agent, may be preparing to buy Expedia's stake of about 65 percent of eLong's equity shares, which translates to 82 percent of its voting shares. (English article) Such a deal would probably cost Ctrip about $500 million - a relatively manageable price for the wealthy company that now has about $2 billion in cash.
This particular deal, if it were happening, would be just the latest attempt at an equity tie-up for Ctrip, which has been actively looking for acquisition targets. The company was previously in talks to buy Qunar (Nasdaq: QUNR), its biggest rival, as well as recently listed site Tuniu (Nasdaq: TOUR), but didn't reach a deal in either case.
It did form at least one tie-up with its purchase of a stake in another company, Tongcheng. This latest report certainly looks logical and could quite possibly be happening, though the sourcing is quite vague. What is clear is that Ctrip is actively looking for acquisitions and eLong could be an attractive target, leading to my conclusion that there's a 50-50 chance that this deal might really be happening.
Bottom line: iDreamSky's New York IPO is likely to meet with weak investor demand, while there's a 50-50 chance that reports of Ctrip's plan to buy a controlling stake of eLong are accurate.