China's social media magnate to privatise microblog operator Sina

Social media platform Weibo may delist.
PHOTO: Reuters

Sina Corporation, the operator of social media platform Weibo, said late Monday that a company controlled by its chairman offered to take it private, making it the latest US-listed Chinese firm to consider a privatisation offer as rising tensions between the world’s two biggest economies have some companies rethinking their American listings.

The Beijing-headquartered company said the offer was in the form of a “preliminary non-binding” proposal letter dated Monday from New Wave MMXV Limited, a company controlled by Charles Chao, Sina’s chairman and chief executive.

New Wave offered to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Sina for US$41 (S$57) a share, representing a 20 per cent premium to the company’s average 30-day closing price and valuing the company at about US$2.7 billion.

Shares of Sina rose 10.6 per cent to close Monday at US$40.54 on Nasdaq.

“We believe that the acquisition will provide superior value to the company's shareholders,” New Wave said in the letter.

“In considering the proposed acquisition, you should be aware that we are interested only in acquiring the outstanding ordinary shares that the buyer does not already own, and that we do not intend to sell our stake in the company to any third party.”

According to the company’s annual report filed April 29, Chao owns 13.5 per cent of the company’s outstanding shares and New Wave controls 58 per cent of its voting power.

Sina went public in 2000 as one of the first of Chinese online companies to list in the US. Weibo separately listed in the US in 2014.

The proposal came as relations between Washington and Beijing are increasingly strained, with tensions high over a new national security law tailored for Hong Kong and the US Senate passing legislation that could force Chinese companies to delist from American bourses if they do not submit their audits for review by a US oversight board.

The more hostile environment has caused a number of Chinese companies to consider secondary listings closer to home in Hong Kong or to pursue so-called take-private deals.

New economy companies and NetEase raised more than US$6 billion combined with secondary listings in Hong Kong in June, following a US$12.9 billion secondary listing last year by Alibaba Group Holding, the parent company of the South China Morning Post., a Chinese online classified advertisement site, agreed in June to be taken private by a consortium of investors led by Warburg Pincus and General Atlantic. The deal valued the company at US$8.7 billion.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.