Sina Weibo claims its daily active users in Q4 2013 are 61.4 million, as its parent company reported yesterday, instead of 25 million as it was rumored one month ago. Weibo reported a 124% increase in total revenue which is USD71.4 million, with 78% from advertising and the rest from paid offerings, for the quarter. Weibo even managed to turn USD3 million profit.
Sina must have been working hard to make the numbers associated with Weibo look better for the planned IPO in the U.S.. We learned that it would happen as soon as this May or later in the second quarter.
It’s possible that the term “Twitter of China” will cause hype again then, but for investors the IPO cannot be the best chance to take advantage of the fact of its being a Twitter clone in such a huge market where Twitter is blocked.
As you can see in the chart above, Sina stock price reached the highest point when Weibo got 100 million users. That’s shortly after Twitter had reached 200 million registered accounts. A couple of months earlier than that, Twitter launched an adverting program, Promoted Accounts.
As Sina Weibo didn’t start monetization in the following year, the stock price fell, despite the rapid growth in registered accounts later on, to less than half of that when at the peak as of the end of 2011.
Weibo began reporting revenues in Q1 2012, but the overall earnings performance seemed not impressive enough to investors. The stock price hadn’t changed much until Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, announced to buy a stake in Sina Weibo and promised to help the latter make money by placing Taobao/Tmall ads on Weibo platform.
Later the two companies would show Weibo users display ads, enable Weibo users to buy Taobao/Tmall items directly through Weibo posts, and let retailers interact with their Weibo followers from Taobao’s system.
Alibaba promised to bring Sina Weibo no less than USD380 million in e-commerce advertising in the next three years since the investment — an average of about USD 32 million per quarter. In Q4 2013, USD 23.8 million, 33% of Weibo’s total revenues, was from Taobao/Tmall advertising.
Those moves sound good for future revenues, but the stock price would plummet after the CNNIC annual report, released on Jan 16th 2014, concluded that Weibo usage for the first time declined in China and there were 27.83 million fewer Weibo users when the year of 2013 ended. Later the rumor that Weibo only had about 25 million daily active users in Q4 2013 must have helped push the price down further.
Charles Chao, CEO of Sina, said a couple of times that Weibo usage was affected by the rise of WeChat which provides a social sharing platform for connected friends. It’s hard to measure how much WeChat has affected Sina Weibo, but it’s actually been a while since people began complaining information overload and increasingly more ads on Sina Weibo.
To a large extent, the existing investors in Sina are for Weibo. And the comparatively stable stock prices reflect their expectations — much lower than three years ago. It really doubt new investors will push the IPO price very high.