Can SINA Weibo Light Up China's Dot-Com Darlings?

Chinese Internet stocks have been falling out of favor lately, but new hope may come in the form of SINA's (NASDAQ: SINA  ) fast-growing yet profitless Weibo. The micro-blogging website indicated an initial pricing range between $17 and $19 in a filing over the weekend that prices the spinoff at nearly $4 billion.

That may seem like a lot of money to pay for a site that just started to monetize its traffic a couple of years ago, but the top-line growth is certainly impressive. Revenue nearly tripled to $188 million last year, and that figure is expected to continue to grow at a heady clip. 

Weibo is often called the Twitter (NYSE: TWTR  ) of China, and it's not entirely off the mark. The user experience may be more Tumblr than Twitter, but it is the top dog in the niche in the world's most populous nation with 130 million active users. That's not too shabby when one considers that equally profitless Twitter has just 241 million active users worldwide. If Twitter can command a market cap of nearly $25 billion, shouldn't SINA's spinoff be worth at least $4 billion?

There are a couple of important distinctions, of course. The first is that Weibo is still early in its phase of turning traffic into revenue. Weibo with $188 million in trailing revenue places it where Twitter was in early 2012. Twitter went from $106 million on its top line in 2011 to $317 million in 2012. That went up to $665 million last year, and Twitter's guidance calls for as much as $1.2 billion in revenue this year. A lot can go wrong on the way up. Weibo is also in China, which despite heartier growth upside relative to the balance of the planet is still a region ripe with political and censorship risks.

However, a successful debut by Weibo could light a fire in China's Internet darlings that have been languishing lately. Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU  ) shares are trading 16% lower in 2014. Baidu isn't a direct competitor to Weibo, and it even shut down its fledgling Weibo-like offering three summers ago. However, if the market gets excited about Weibo, it will probably warm up to Baidu's market-leading search platform as well as its growing presence in mobile and online video.

If Baidu has been a disappointment this year, the bigger shock may be that SINA is faring even worse. Shares of SINA have tumbled 33% this year, despite the encouraging value that Weibo should command in its IPO. SINA will clearly be the biggest beneficiary of Weibo if it proves to be a hot IPO, but all of China's Internet stocks will be cheering the deal on to remind investors that buying into the country's Internet players is a smart move.

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