Sina Weibo

Sina's Weibo files papers to raise US$500m in IPO in US

Move will allow popular Chinese-language social network to spin off from Internet giant Sina

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 March, 2014, 10:58am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 3:25am

Twitter-like microblog service Weibo has filed to raise US$500 million via a US initial public offering, as Chinese companies flock to the American market in record numbers to take advantage of soaring valuations.

Weibo, owned by Sina, becomes the latest Chinese internet giant to tap US markets, following on the heels of search service Baidu and its own corporate parent.

Alibaba, which owns a stake in Weibo, is expected to raise about US$15 billion in New York this year, in the highest-profile internet IPO since Facebook's in 2012. The online store may disclose its prospectus for an IPO as soon as next month, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

But underscoring the challenges facing internet firms operating in a heavily censored and tightly controlled media environment, Weibo warned investors in its Friday IPO filing about uncertainty arising from regulation.

It highlighted a law that came into effect in September. The law says internet users who knowingly make or share information considered defamatory or false could face up to three years in jail in China.

"The implementation of this newly promulgated judicial interpretation may have a significant and adverse effect on the traffic of our platform and discourage the creation of user generated content," the company said.

Beijing expressly bans a range of material in media deemed sensitive, from open political opposition to criticism of important officials. Responsibility for policing such content often falls on companies such as Weibo, which could face fines or even the revocation of their licences.

Weibo also warned about potential government intervention in its encryption tools and software, used to prevent spying while safeguarding the privacy of users and their posts.

It said Beijing required all "cipher code" products to be registered with the government, though it was unclear whether this applied to social media encryption.

"Because these regulations do not specify what constitutes a cipher code product, we are unsure as to whether or how they apply to us and the encryption software we utilise," the company said.

Still, US investors have an appetite for Chinese companies' stock, hoping to share in some of the spoils of the world's fastest-growing major economy.

US markets may see more IPOs from Chinese corporations this year than in any year since 2010. That is despite long-simmering concerns among investors about Chinese accounting standards, the result of several high-profile auditing scandals.

Alibaba is opting for a US listing after struggling to persuade regulators in Hong Kong to approve a proposed governance structure.