IPOs: Sohu to List Sogou, AirMedia Lowers Buyout Offer

Bottom line: Sohu’s plan to list its Sogou search unit has a 50-50 chance of happening this year, while AirMedia’s 2-year-old privatization plan is likely to close within that period.

Sohu talks IPO for Sogou — again

A couple of IPOs are in the headlines as we head into the new week, led by an often-discussed offering by perennial third-place search engine Sogou, which is co-owned by Internet titan Tencent (HKEx: 700) and second-rate portal Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU). At the same time, another second-rate company, AirMedia (Nasdaq: AMCN), has slashed the proposed buyout price for its attempt to go private, reflecting the company’s own troubles.

Both of these stories have a bit of the “who cares?” element for long-term investors, since neither company is one that has particularly strong long-term prospects. But they do both reflect the larger realm of smaller Chinese Internet and media companies that are struggling for attention, as investors get mesmerized by giants like Tencent, Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and JD.com (Nasdaq: JD).

In a way, this situation isn’t that different from the U.S., where smaller companies have also had difficulty getting investor attention from big names like Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Facebook (Nasdaq: FB). The only difference is that most of these smaller Chinese companies are run like personal fiefdoms by their founders, who don’t understand why investors could possibly abandon them when their growth stories peter out.

All that said, let’s look at these two stories of second-rate companies trying to attract investor attention. That’s certainly the case with Sohu, which has trumpeted this particular IPO for quite a while, including a reference to such a plan back in January. A look through the archives will also show that Sohu was shopping Sogou for an IPO back in 2015, and I’m sure we can find other references if we look.

Now Sohu has come out and is saying that it intends to start make filings for a Sogou IPO when market conditions are right. (company announcement) In all my years of writing about this group and following such announcements, this is the first I can recall of a company saying that it intends to make such a filing. In all other instances companies will say they have filed already, or simply let the filings speak for themselves.

My interpretation is that Sohu, consistent with past behavior, is simply desperate for attention and may or may not actually make this IPO. This company is a bit like a child desperate for attention, leading it to frequently “cry wolf” to get people to notice it. The tactic seems to have worked in this case, with Sohu’s shares rising nearly 12 percent in the latest session, which also included its quarterly results. But the stock is still well below its highs from a few years ago, and I suspect this rally will quickly run out of steam and the Sogou IPO only has a 50-50 chance of happening.

Revived Buyout

Next we’ll close with a look at AirMedia, which is one of around 10 “orphan” stocks that have yet to close privatization plans announced more than two years ago at the height of a wave for such buyouts. The company first announced its privatization plan in September 2015, but never managed to complete it.

Now it seems that plan is still alive, but that the management-led team making the offer is lowering their buyout price by nearly a third, to $4.10 per American Depositary Share (ADS) from a previous $6. (company announcement) Here it’s worth noting that the company’s share price has dropped significantly since the original buyout offer, from an original $5.40 to around $2.70 at present. That includes a nearly 7 percent rally after word of this revised offer.

From my perspective, this looks like a positive development that shows AirMedia really wants to get this deal done. The company had previously fallen out of listing requirement rules by failing to file a report on time, and its current market cap of $170 million means a continued listing is probably a costly burden. Accordingly, I do think the company may finally get this privatization completed, meaning a potential opportunity to make some quick money for any investors with a tolerance for some medium-level risk.

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