E-commerce firm Wowo to seek $40m in US IPO

Updated: 2015-01-15 12:29

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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Wowo Ltd, a Beijing-based e-commerce firm, is set to become the first Chinese company to list in the United States in 2015, a move that investment advisers see as a prelude to another strong year of IPOs coming out of Asia.

"Wowo is the beginning and may just be a small sign of some other Chinese IPOs coming," said Kathleen S. Smith, a principal and IPO ETF (exchange-traded fund) manager at Renaissance Capital.

"This is not your standard IPO, it's a best efforts offering," Smith told China Daily. "It could have a number of closings and the deal size could change, so it's a little harder for an investor to know that there's going to be a certain amount of liquidity in that IPO."

Peter Halesworth, a portfolio manager with Heng Ren Investments, a Boston-based firm that invests in Chinese companies listed in the US, said the Chinese e-commerce space is already quite crowded by Baidu Inc, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd (BAT), which could be an issue for Wowo going forward.

"BAT all have horses in the race, which Wowo or 55tuan.com is trying to compete in," Halesworth said. "That is a very stiff challenge. Investors are really going to want to do their due diligence first and make sure the company's plan is credible. The burden of proof will be on Wowo's management.

"The most important thing to know is how they are going to execute the transition from their group buying strategy to an e-commerce platform that basically provides a mobile store endpoint to consumers," he said.

A Jan 9 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said Wowo plans to raise up to $40 million in an IPO on the Nasdaq Stock Market in New York.

Founded in 2010, Wowo operates Chinese group-buying site 55tuan.com. The company is China's largest e-commerce platform for local lifestyle services in China, including movie theaters and restaurants.

Wowo uses its multi-pronged platform to promote "direct interaction" between more than 2,000 local merchants and their target customers in nearly 150 major Chinese cities, according to its filing. The company had net revenues of $36.3 million for the 12-month period that ended Dec 31, 2013.

In addition to its e-commerce website, the firm also supports infrastructure for real-time, location-based interaction through mobile devices. As of Sept 30, the company had 17.3 million active mobile users on Wowo Mobile, company data showed. Wowo attempted an IPO in the US in 2011, but had to withdraw because of internal delays.

Josef Schuster, founder of Ipox Schuster LLC, a Chicago-based independent financial-services firm specializing in global IPOs, said Wowo's decision to list in the US could be a play to curry favor among investors who are still high on the "positive sentiment" from the Alibaba IPO.

"Given that there is not another Alibaba coming by size, the gross proceedsare going to be down from 2014," Schuster said. "The theme of the year for China-linked IPOs is going to be small- and mid-cap companies going public, basically a continuation of the trend that we have seen in 2014, just many less of the large ones.

"The IPO should be successful despite the market turbulence here in the US," he said. "It’s active in the e-commerce business, and investors have realized that micro- and small-cap IPOs have actually outperformed other larger deals quite substantially over the last two to three years."

Halesworth said a "promising" aspect for Wowo is the renewed interest among US investors for Chinese companies.

"We’re seeing the appetite reinvigorated," he said. "When you have global juggernauts like Alibaba come to the US, list successfully and make US investors money, that starts to change the sentiment."

Smith said Renaissance Capital expects to see a number of Chinese IPOs in 2015, possibly including companies like smartphone-maker Xiaomi and Dianping, the so-called "Yelp of China".

"We are looking at some very big IPOs that are going to come from China that could tap our market here," Smith said.