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Big US funds stake claim on quarter of Kuaishou's $5.4bn IPO

Chinese short-video app backing comes despite tense Washington-Beijing relations

A Kuaishou Technology booth at a trade fair in Beijing in September 2020. The company operates apps that allow users to upload short videos as well as livestream programs.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Major U.S. fund managers including BlackRock and Fidelity are among 10 cornerstone investors in Chinese short-video platform Kuaishou Technology's $5.4 billion initial public offering, at a time when the relationship between the world's two largest economies is at its lowest point in decades.

U.S.-based institutional investors have agreed to invest $1.39 billion, or a quarter of the entire offering by the Tencent Holdings-backed company, according to a term sheet seen by Nikkei Asia.

Los Angeles-based Capital Group is the biggest cornerstone investor with $500 million, Invesco and Fidelity are tipping in $270 million each, BlackRock has earmarked $225 million and Morgan Stanley Investment Management is coming in with $125 million, the term sheet showed.

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, Singapore government-owned investment company Temasek, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Chinese buyout company Boyu Capital round out the cornerstone investors. The 10 companies will put in a combined $2.45 billion, according to the term sheet.

The backing for Kuaishou comes just days after Chinese e-cigarette company RLX Technology's shares soared 146% on their debut in New York on Friday, and underscores investors' confidence despite uncertainty over whether new U.S. President Joe Biden will continue his predecessor's push for financial decoupling from China.

"China plus Asia is the most innovative, entrepreneurial digital ecosystem on the planet," said Jeffrey Towson, a private equity investor and former professor at Peking University.

"The number of unicorns now exceeds the U.S. and the pipeline is growing," he said. "The political winds will change from time to time, but foreign investors and foreign companies aren't leaving China or Asia anytime soon."

Kuaishou, which means "fast hand" in Chinese, operates apps that allow users to upload short videos as well as livestream programs, allowing companies to promote products. It was among a group of companies including TikTok owner ByteDance that pioneered the live bite-size video format that has taken off around the world.

Investors' hunger for Kuaishou shares comes as some Chinese companies face the wrath of U.S. authorities.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump late last year banned investment in securities of companies judged to be linked to the Chinese military. As a result, the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading in the shares of state-run telecommunication companies China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

The Trump administration also ordered ByteDance to divest its video platform TikTok's U.S. assets over what it described as national security risks. The company, which denies the allegation, has been in talks for months with Walmart and Oracle to shift those assets into a new entity.

Kuaishou's offering, which could raise as much as $6.23 billion if underwriters exercise an overallotment option, is shaping up to be the largest IPO in Hong Kong since mobile infrastructure company China Tower raised $7.4 billion in August 2018.

The offering, which opened for institutional investors on Monday, was oversubscribed within hours and orders continue to pour in, according to two people familiar with the deal.

"The pre-IPO investor roadshow did indicate investor eagerness for the offering," one of the persons said. "What we are witnessing is better than our own expectation."

Kuaishou, which competes against TikTok's sister app Douyin in China, had been expected to seek as much $5 billion at a $50 billion valuation but raised its upper limit after discussions with investors last week, two people familiar with the deal said on Friday.

The company is offering the shares at between HK$105 and HK$115 apiece, with the issue price set to be determined on Friday. Trading will debut on Feb. 5.

At that price range, the company will be valued at between $55.6 billion and $60 billion, the term sheet showed. If the extra shares are sold, the market capitalization could rise to as much as $61.7 billion, it said. That would double the level at which it was valued a year ago when it privately raised about $5 billion, according to the people familiar with the transactions.

The retail portion of the IPO opens on Tuesday, and brokers are preparing for heavy bidding.

Bright Smart Securities & Commodities Group, one of the largest brokers in Hong Kong, has earmarked 50 billion Hong Kong dollars ($6.45 billion) to meet margin financing demands from mom-and-pop investors, a spokeswoman said. That is the same amount the broker reserved for the now canceled Ant Group IPO, which would have been the world's largest.

Kuaishou reported an adjusted loss of 7.2 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) for the first nine months of 2020 compared with an adjusted profit of 1.8 billion yuan in the same period a year earlier, after its selling and marketing expenses surged as part of an effort to build its brand. Revenue climbed 49% to 40.6 billion yuan over the same period, according to its prospectus.

"We continue to believe the high sales and marketing expense were a one-off rather than the new normal," said Arun George, an analyst at Global Equity Research, who publishes on the Smartkarma platform.

"Kuaishou guides to a decrease in sales and marketing expenses as a percentage of revenue in the future underpinned by improving operational efficiency and economies of scale," he said. The disclosure "reinforces our view that Kuaishou is worth a look."

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