RenRen IPO’s biggest hurdle might be PengYou

As RenRen’s IPO date approaches, the so-called “Facebook of China” may face stiff competition from Baidu.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:BIDU), Facebook and Tencent Holdings Ltd. (HKG:0700).

With RenRen’s IPO date looming on May 4, investors are salivating over the first major social networking site to hit American stock exchanges. The so-called “Facebook of China” may face stiff competition in the months to come, though, as both Baidu.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Tencent Holdings Ltd. (HKG:0700) have moved to aggressively ramp up their social marketing efforts in China.

China’s largest search engine, Baidu.com, is well-known among investors. Shares in the company debuted on the Nasdaq in 2005, and they’ve risen more than 1140 percent since. Earlier this month, Facebook announced rumors surfaced that Facebook struck a deal with Baidu to launch a new social networking site in the country (per MSNBC). No launch date has been announced (if it does indeed come to pass), but the companies will reportedly work together to build a new social networking site from scratch, as Facebook.com remains blocked by the Chinese government.

A partnership makes perfect sense. Baidu currently owns 73 percent of the search market in China but has struggled to succeed in the social networking space. The site’s reach should help it heavily promote a new social networking venture much the way Google has done with its Chrome Web browser. Facebook benefits from Baidu’s close working relationship with the Chinese government – something its needed to get past the Great Firewall.

Time is of the essence, though, and Tencent already has a head start on Baidu. Tencent operates the world’s largest online community with its wildly popular instant messaging platform, Tencent QQ. QQ claims more than 636 million active users. To put that in perspective, that’s more than twice the population of the U.S.

Tencent’s earliest foray into social networking started in 2009 with the launch of XiaoYou, a Facebook-like platform targeted at students. XiaoYou allowed users to create profiles based on nicknames (rather than real names) much like MySpace.com. We saw how well MySpace played out here, and Tencent must have taken notice.

The company scrapped XiaoYou last summer in favor of a new “real-name” social networking site dubbed PengYou (per TechRice). When PengYou launched public beta testing in September, invites were extended to employees at publicly-listed Chinese companies, including Fortune 500 companies in China, TechRice writes. By December, the site fully opened up to the public, and an Open API was released so that developers could write custom software for PengYou.

The site allows users to sync up with their QQ accounts and their SINA Weibo microblogging accounts (think the “Twitter of China”). Investors like those ideas. Late last week, analysts at Goldman Sachs actually downgraded SINA Corporation (NASDAQ: SINA) from Neutral to Sell citing a belief that SINA’s Weibo won’t be able to compete with full-scale social networks like PengYou.

“In our new analysis, we believe the most likely outcome is for Weibo to become an alternative loosely-engaged social network weighted toward its distinctive social media elements, and for Tencent Pengyou to become the dominant social network in China by leveraging its much larger QQ community and more developed platforms,” Goldman writes.

Since its launch in December (just five months ago), PengYou has grown rapidly. The social network’s currently ranked by Alexa.com as the 26th most-visited site in China. That puts it in striking distance of RenRen.com, which is ranked as the 15th most-visited site in China. It’s clear we’re witnessing the start of what promises to be a dogfight over social networkers in China. Tencent, Facebook and Baidu have entered the race late, but the finish line is a long way over the horizon.

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A Sina Weibo IPO could be in the works as China’s Twitter moves to Weibo.com

China’s popular Twitter-like site Weibo may have taken a step closer to an IPO yesterday by unmooring itself from Sina.com with the launch of Weibo.com.

China’s popular Twitter-like site Weibo may have taken a step closer to an IPO yesterday by unmooring itself from Sina.com. No longer will users have to click or type their way to t.sina.com.cn. Instead, they can type in Weibo.com to access the microblogging site instantly, according to Penn Olson.

Back in February, I wrote a post titled Will we ever see a SINA Weibo IPO? I speculated then that SINA Corporation (NASDAQ:SINA) would be silly to spin off its fastest-growing business. I may have jumped the gun.

All systems seem to be pointing to a Weibo IPO sooner rather than later. First, there was a thinly-sourced report in March from China’s 21st Century Business Herald that claimed Sina was in talks with several investment banks as it mulled a Weibo IPO.

Now, there’s a move to separate the microblogging site from Sina.com by giving it its own domain. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we get our hands on an official S-1 filing.

For now, users will be able to use t.sina.com.cn AND weibo.com. Eventually the two sites will be merged, and traffic going to t.sina.com.cn will get re-directed to Weibo.com. The re-branding should help raise public consciousness for Weibo in China and abroad.

“We have successfully built Sina microblog Weibo into the largest and most influential social media platform in China, with user base increasing by more than 25 times in 2010,” Sina’s CEO Charles Chao said after the company’s Q4 earnings report last month.

The total number of Weibo users doubled to 100 million in the four months leading up to the report, and Sina’s in the process of deploying an advertising and a virtual goods marketplace on Weibo. While the microblogging service is yet to generate any revenue, analysts still believe Weibo could be valued at $3 billion or more.

And judging by the success of several recent tech IPOs out of China (including YOKU, DANG and QIHU), a Weibo IPO has the potential to turn into a public spectacle – especially if the site could beat Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook onto stock exchanges.

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Top 5 best ways to short the dollar

Here are five simple ways to bet against the dollar; from opening a savings account in a foreign currency to investing in precious metals or American Blue Chip stocks.

1) ETFs. Perhaps the easiest way to bet against the dollar is by investing in an inverse dollar ETF. The PowerShares US Dollar Index Bearish ETF (NYSE:UDN) is the best in class with a daily trading volume around 156,000 shares. UDN shorts futures contracts as it tries to track the Deutsche Bank Short US Dollar Index (USDX) Futures Index. A better option, though, might be shorting an ETF that’s long the dollar in the form of UDN’s sibling, the PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish ETF (NYSE:UUP). UUP has a trading volume that’s 16 times higher than UDNs, and some sources argue shorting long ETFs is a better strategy than going long short ETFs.

2) Buy gold. Since the supply of gold is relatively stable, the precious metal’s price tends to behave independently of the actions at the Fed’s printing press. If the value of the dollar goes down, gold prices can stay the same, but it’ll still take more dollars to buy the same amount of gold. Throw increased investor demand for gold into the mix when inflationary fears are building in the economy, and you’ve got a recipe for surging gold prices.

3) Convert your dollars to yuan. The Chinese government has loosened the strings it has the yuan of late, finally allowing allowing Americans to open yuan savings accounts directly in the U.S. The Bank of China branches in New York and L.A. allow investors to save cash in the form of renminbi (deposit up to $20,000 a year). Kiplinger also recommends checking out EverBank, which offers savings accounts in 20 foreign currencies (provided you pay a 0.75 percent transaction fee when you buy and sell currencies). Accounts can be started with as little as $2,5000.

4) Invest in multinational Blue Chips. While companies like tractor-manufacturer Deere & Company (NYSE:DE), The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) and software company Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) are all headquartered in the U.S., they derive significant portions of their income overseas. In the case of Oracle, 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from business outside of the U.S. Not only does these investments give you exposure to emerging economies, they hedge your exposure to the dollar while paying a modest dividend.

5) Invest directly in foreign companies. In the tech realm, the Chinese market operates behind what’s been dubbed The Great Firewall. American tech companies can’t get in, and a lot of the country’s biggest tech companies aren’t yet trying to capture audiences outside the domestic market. That means growth in your investment is unmoored from the performance of the dollar. In tech, consider SINA Corporation (NASDAQ:SINA), the maker of a Twitter-like microblogging service called Weibo. China’s financial markets has a new player in wealth management company Noah Holdings Limited (NYSE:NOAH) and the Chinese advertising industry looks like it’s led by Focus Media Holding Limited (NASDAQ:FMCN). There are also numerous plays in China’s solar industry from JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd. (NASDAQ:JASO) to Trina Solar Limited (NYSE:TSL) to name a few.

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SINA’s Twitter-like Weibo service proves bright spot in earnings report (SINA)

So long as Weibo’s in-house censors are fast enough to keep the Chinese government happy, the site could make SINA’s $5 billion market cap look laughably small in the years to come – particularly since Twitter, which isn’t backed by a popular portal site, has a valuation that’s nearing $4.5 billion.

SINA Corporation’s (NASDAQ:SINA) Q4 earnings report wasn’t warmly embraced by investors. Shares were down more than 5 percent in after-hours trading last night. Still, SINA’s Twitter-like Weibo service (pronounced Way-Bwah) proved a bright spot. Interest in Weibo helped push up traffic and online ad revenues for the site’s parent company SINA by 30 percent to $82.5 million in the quarter.

Weibo’s total number of users also soared, doubling to 100 million in just four months. “The firm has said Weibo will start generating revenue in the first half of 2011 via the sale of virtual items and advertising space,” Reuters reports.

“2010 has been a year of transformation for Sina,” Sina CEO Charles Chao said. Besides ad growth, “we have successfully built Sina microblog Weibo into the largest and most influential social media platform in China, with user base increasing by more than 25 times in 2010.”

SINA’s increasingly pitting the company’s future on the back of the micro-blogging service. Indeed, SINA plans to open Weibo up to outside developers in a bid to transform the company from an Internet portal to a social networking Internet platform that can tap outside app developers for growth and innovation.

The approach is similar to Facebook’s App platform, which has led to incredible growth for game development studios like Zynga (not to mention spiking valuations, pageviews and time-on-site for Facebook). So long as Weibo’s in-house censors are fast enough to keep the Chinese government happy, SINA’s $5 billion market cap could look laughably small one day. Twitter may have more users, but it isn’t backed by an Internet portal and it’s already got a valuation that’s nearing $4.5 billion. SINA’s best days may be yet to come.

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DangDang (NYSE:DANG) founder labels Morgan Stanley “motherf**kers”

The CEO of E-Commerce China Dangdang, Inc. (NYSE:DANG), Guoqing Li, railed publicly against Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) over the weekend after watching the shares he sold at $16 more than double to $33 in just over a month of trading on the NYSE.

If there’s one thing that’s truly refreshing about Chinese tech startups, it’s the fact that the CEOs there aren’t afraid to sound off like teenage boys when they feel like they’ve been wronged. It’s a nice reprise from the overly-sanitized, politically-correct, speak-words-without-actually-saying-anything, VOICE-OF-GOD tone that American CEOs have mastered.

Case in point, the CEO of E-Commerce China Dangdang, Inc. (NYSE:DANG), Guoqing Li, railed publicly against Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) over the weekend after watching the Dangdang shares he sold at $16 more than double to $33 in just over a month of trading on the NYSE. The CEO’s fictional “rock song” lyrics don’t pull any punches:

“Lyrics for a rock song: You (Morgan Stanley) gave out a valuation of 1-6 billion, but in Hong Kong the opening statements stated only 0.78 billion, stop f**king acting,” TechRice quotes Mr. Li as writing in his microblog account on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo. “You f**kers knew first day of launch that valuation would be 2 billion, but you still priced USD 16 per share, which comes to 1.1 billion. My CFO was in panic mode, I held back a breath and silently cursed you motherf**kers.”

“I regret not giving the job to Goldman Sachs,” Mr. Li went on in response to a microblogger identified as a Morgan Stanley employee. “I am here openly criticizing investment banks, criticizing Morgan Stanley, what, Morgan Stanley can’t be criticized? Not be cursed? You foreigners’ flunky!”

Mishi fired back on the Twitter-like microblog platform, Sina Weibo, saying Mr. Li possesses an “IQ so low you don’t even understand the basic principles of being human.”

Morgan Stanley quickly issued a rebuke: “These comments are offensive, highly unprofessional and do not reflect industry practices. We condemn such behavior that can risk damaging a company’s brand and reputation,” the bank said in an official statement.

Now that the IPO silent period is over, it seems the kid gloves have come off. It could be a risky bit of marketing on the part of Mr. Li, or he might genuinely be miffed that he sold a huge stake in his own company for far too little. My guess? It’s a bit of both.

Mr. Li’s smart enough to know that an under-priced IPO can lead to a whole lot of positive PR, but its got to be frustrating watching your shares skyrocket and knowing that you’ve missed out on a few hundred million dollars in your pocket. I think I’d be doing some cursing, too. I just might not have made it public.

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