Meituan’s chief billionaire-in-waiting hopes for ‘no war or black swan’ during IPO book building process

Meituan Dianping is seeking to raise as much as US$4.4 billion in a Hong Kong IPO, which would make it third-biggest debut in the city this year behind China Tower and Xiaomi

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 10:50pm

It was 9.44am on Tuesday and Wang Xing, chairman and chief executive of Meituan Dianping, sent out a message to his 204,780 Fanfou social media followers: “Hope war does not break out or there are other black swan events in the next nine days.”

It’s unclear what prompted the 39-year-old to send out the message, but Wang and his management team were due to host an investor lunch that day at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, kick-starting the book building exercise for Meituan’s US$4.4 billion IPO.

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During this crucial period, the company’s underwriters will accept orders from fund managers and gauge the strength of demand before deciding what price to place on the offering.

Wang Xing, who seldom gives interviews, held a press conference with his team at the Island Shangri-La on Thursday about Meituan’s IPO. He owns 11 per cent of Meituan’s shares and will become China’s newest minted billionaire after the IPO. The team played a corporate video, read from prepared notes and only took four questions from journalists.

“In the short term, we do not intend to expand overseas,” said Wang Xing, when asked about growth plans. “Given that there’s a population of 1.3 billion and 8 million restaurants in China, there’s still a lot of room for domestic growth.”

The press conference took place against a challenging background recently for tech companies in China, which have been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Meituan’s rival in ride-hailing Didi is embroiled in a safety crisis sparked by the killing of a second female passenger in three months. In an update of its prospectus, Meituan called a halt to expanding its ride-hailing operations, citing “current market dynamics”.

“We believe that investing in our food-related businesses, including restaurant management systems and the food supply chain, will create better overall strategic synergies,” said co-founder and senior vice-president Wang Huiwen at Thursday’s press conference, in response to a question about ride-hailing. “Our own leading takeaway distribution business has a lot of room for growth in the future.”

Also upsetting tech investor sentiment in recent days was news that founder Richard Liu had been arrested over the weekend in Minnesota on a rape accusation, sparking the biggest two-day share decline since its IPO in May 2014. Meanwhile, China’s internet titan Tencent Holdings on Thursday announced a strict ID verification system for its games – linked to police data – to protect minors after China’s top state media warned against video game addiction and regulators vowed to restrict the approval of games amid concerns over children’s health.

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Xiaomi, the last high-profile tech listing in Hong Kong, sold stock at the bottom of its marketed range after failing to convince investors that it deserved higher valuations than companies like Apple and Facebook because it was an internet services company rather than just a hardware maker. An escalating trade war between the US and China has also dampened risk appetite among investors.

And Meituan itself has not been immune to a PR crisis. Last month, one of its deliverymen in Guangdong province was caught on CCTV eating a customer’s food in a lift, before replacing the lid and completing the delivery. He was subsequently fired.

Meituan is raising funds to top up its war chest as it sets out to build a super app for on-demand services, placing it on a collision course with Alibaba Group Holding, which is investing billions to compete for control of China’s trillion-dollar online-to-offline services industry.

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Meituan is seeking to raise as much as US$4.4 billion from the IPO, which would make it the third-largest in Hong Kong this year after China Tower and Xiaomi. Should the issue price at the bottom of the range, the US$45.5 billion valuation would still make it bigger than, the worst-performing stock on the Nasdaq 100 Index in the past six months.

In on-demand delivery, Meituan now leads the field in China with 59.1 per cent of the market’s transaction volume in the first quarter of 2018, according to data from iResearch cited in its prospectus. But competition is set to intensify further with Alibaba’s plans for a merger of its on-demand delivery units and Koubei, and fresh investment of US$3 billion. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

“The rapid development of China's online delivery industry in the past few years has attracted many new players,” said senior vice-president Wang Puzhong, at Thursday’s press conference. “Most importantly, we put the user experience at the core of our strategy and invest long-term to improve this.”

Meituan launched car-hailing services in Shanghai and Nanjing earlier this year, with an initial plan to be in at least five mainland Chinese cities. It had about 18,000 daily active users on August 31, according to Chinese data services provider Aurora Mobile, a fraction of market leader Didi.

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Meituan recorded a net loss of 19 billion yuan (US$2.9 billion) last year, while more than doubling its revenue, according to its prospectus. Losses widened in the first four months of this year to 22.8 billion yuan, after taking into account the acquisition of loss-making bicycle-sharing firm Mobike in April.

The company expects a “substantial amount of loss” for 2018 and 2019 and cannot give assurances that Mobike or Meituan’s overall business will achieve profitability in the future, it said in its prospectus.

Meituan began taking institutional orders for shares from Tuesday, and retail orders will commence from Friday. The stock is expected to start trading on September 20 on Hong Kong’s main board.