China selfie app in talks for $5 billion IPO valuation

Valuation will be a key area of discussion as Meitu and its investment bankers talks with potential investors from this week through 2 December, according to terms for the deal obtained by Bloomberg


Meitu’s apps, with about 450 million monthly active users, help people appear more attractive in photos by slimming faces, lengthening limbs and even applying make-up. Photo: Mint
Meitu’s apps, with about 450 million monthly active users, help people appear more attractive in photos by slimming faces, lengthening limbs and even applying make-up. Photo: Mint

Hong Kong:China’s Meitu Inc. is about to test the price of beauty.

The developer of selfie apps is in talks with investors ahead of its planned initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong and is discussing a share sale that would value the company at about $5 billion, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Investors are split in their view of that value however, with local Chinese funds willing to pay up for what they see as the next big growth opportunity and international investors more skeptical about the company’s potential, the people said.

Meitu’s apps, with about 450 million monthly active users, help people appear more attractive in photos by slimming faces, lengthening limbs and even applying make-up. The Xiamen-based company is convinced these beauty-conscious loyalists can be turned into a lucrative base for e-commerce and advertising opportunities, the people said. Skeptics point out the company still generates 95% of its revenue from selling mobile phones and has limited proof it can profit from the popularity of its apps.

Valuation will be a key area of discussion as Meitu and its investment bankers talks with potential investors from this week through 2 December, according to terms for the deal obtained by Bloomberg. The company has said it is aiming to raise about $750 million, which would make it Hong Kong’s biggest technology listing in nearly a decade.

“There should be ways to monetize the user experience,” said Kai-Fu Lee, an early Meitu investor and a non-executive director at the company. “I think there’s excellent progress being made from photos to videos and from a tool to a social network. When those two businesses are believed to be more mature, that would be a great time to add more monetization.”

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Meitu has to balance valuation and stability. If it sold most of the IPO shares to the Chinese funds, it could reach $5 billion or perhaps higher, the people said. Yet the company is seeking big-name financial institutions as cornerstone investors to limit volatility of the shares when they start trading, the people said. That may push the valuation below $5 billion, the people said.

Meitu’s revenue rose more than three-fold to 585.5 million yuan ($88 million) in the first six months of 2016. It had an operating loss of 279 million yuan during the same period, narrowing about 8% from a year earlier.

China’s technology market has proven tumultuous for its high-flying stars. Smartphone company Xiaomi Corp. earned a valuation of $46 billion in 2014 and climbed to the top of China’s handset market. But it has since fallen to fourth in the country and its valuation would likely be lower if it had to raise money today.

Meitu plans to test demand this week from investors in Hong Kong, London, New York and Boston, and will conduct calls with Singapore money managers. It will meet with select Asian investors next week, according to the terms reviewed by Bloomberg.

The company plans to use about 35% of the IPO proceeds to expand its smart hardware business, while around 25% will go toward strategic investments and acquisitions.

Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse Group AG and China Merchants Securities Co. are joint sponsors of the offering, according to a pre-listing filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

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