Weibo owner faces modest growth in '14

Updated: 2014-02-26 11:40

By Jack Freifelder in New York (China Daily USA)

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Sina Corp - a Chinese online media company that runs Weibo, China's version of Twitter - received a "buy" recommendation from an analyst who also reduced her 12-month price target after the company reported modest fourth-quarter and full-year revenue growth.

Echo He, a senior equity analyst who covers Sina for Maxim Group LLC, a New York-based securities and investment management firm, cut her price target to $90 from $95 following the company's earnings report on Feb 25.

"Sina's recent earnings revenue was in line, but it's not that strong," He said on Tuesday in an interview with China Daily. "Going into 2014 the company is working toward growing Weibo's revenue and its user base. In order to do that they're probably going to continue to invest, so they won't see significant improvement on Weibo or the company's profitability in 2014."

The company's 12-month net revenue climbed to $665.1 million and its fourth quarter revenue was $197 million - year-on-year increases of 26 and 42 percent, respectively. The fourth-quarter profit was Weibo's first since being set up in 2009. Advertising revenue grew by 163 percent in 2013 to $56 million, according to Sina.

"Our partnership with Alibaba has played an important role in advertising revenue growth in the fourth quarter," said Charles Chao, chairman and CEO of Sina, during the company's earnings report conference call. "2013 has been a challenging year for Sina with the migration to mobile Internet accelerated and the competition in mobile and the social space intensified. Long-term sustainable growth for Weibo is largely dependent on our ability to continue to grow our user base."

Xinhua reported on Tuesday that Sina Weibo is planning a stock market listing in New York at some point in the first half of 2014. The news of the proposed listing, which will seek to raise $500 million, came out shortly after Sina released its latest financial results.

Sina, which maintains a 71-percent stake in Weibo, faces competition from Tencent Holdings Ltd, owner of the popular WeChat instant-messaging application.

He, the analyst with the Maxim Group, said Weibo's plan for an IPO is "the right position for Sina".

"Given the competition in the market, especially from WeChat, I think the IPO is better earlier than later," He told China Daily. "The concern is whether they can still maintain the growth of their user base."

Josef Schuster - founder of Ipox Schuster LLC, a Chicago-based independent financial-services firm specializing in global IPOs - said the spin-off of Weibo is "an opportunistic move for the company".

"The evaluations are quite high," Schuster said Tuesday in an interview with China Daily. "Momentum in the IPO market is very strong and there is a lot of interest in that space in China. There is an opportunity for the company to capitalize and take advantage of the market in the US."

(China Daily USA 02/26/2014 page2)