March 16, 2011 2:57 am

Qihoo listing to test investor appetite

Qihoo 360 Technology, China’s largest provider of free antivirus software, filed for a US listing just hours before Japan’s nuclear crisis triggered a shares sell-off, making the planned flotation a test case for how Chinese technology listings can fare in a volatile market.

Qihoo’s filing late on Monday, in which it hopes to raise up to $200m, follows a string of listings by Chinese internet companies in the US in recent months.

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In December, shares of Youku, the country’s leading online video website, soared 161 per cent on its first day of trading on Nasdaq, the biggest first-day rise of a Chinese IPO in the US since 2005.

That and similar successful listings have encouraged Chinese start-ups to grab the opportunity to go public now. “The pipeline is very strong,” said one banker who is working on Chinese internet IPOs.

But bankers said the 11 per cent drop in Japanese shares which appeared to broaden into a global sell-off late on Tuesday could put many of these planned deals at risk.

“We have reached an inflection point, and everyone is going to watch Qihoo. If Qihoo doesn’t work, some of these deals will be pulled,” said one banker. Most of the Chinese technology companies in the queue aim to raise amounts similar to or smaller than the $232m raised by Youku. These include 21 Vianet, a company whose data centre services are part of the backbone of the Chinese internet, the world’s largest with 467m users.

But among the most closely watched deals will be planned US listings by Chinese social networking sites. In the absence of Facebook, which is blocked in China, Renren and Kaixin.001 have developed as local clones. Renren is planning to raise up to $500m in a US listing, advised by Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, as reported by the Financial Times last month.

Now Kaixin.001 is following suit. The company has hired JPMorgan and Citigroup for a US IPO, sources familiar with the situation said. JPMorgan and Citigroup declined to comment.

Investors have shown keen demand for Chinese internet stocks. But analysts said the Japanese nuclear crisis was likely to make fund managers more risk averse.

Qihoo’s net profit doubled in 2010 to Rmb8.5m ($1.3m) on an 80 per cent jump in revenue. It makes money from online advertising and internet games. Citigroup and UBS are joint bookrunners on the Qihoo listing. The company plans to price its IPO on March 29.

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