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Sina's Twitter-like Weibo launches IPO

China's Twitter-like platform Weibo went public on the Nasdaq on Thursday under the symbol "WB" and opened just below the expected $17 price but started trading 2 percent higher soon afterward. Since then, its shares have soared.

The stock was expected to open Thursday morning, but was delayed until closer to noon. The underwriters, which include Goldman Sachs, determined the listing time, sources familiar with the situation told CNBC.

At the offer price, Weibo is valued at $3.46 billion. The company is controlled by the Web portal firm Sina and sold 16.8 million American depositary shares at $17 each, raising about $286 million, Reuters reported. This figure was less than the planned 20 million ADSs priced between $17 and $19 each.

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The company priced the shares at the lower end of the range because of the recent stock market turmoil, particularly in technology shares, a banker who worked on the IPO told Reuters.

The Weibo Corp. logo is displayed outside of the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Weibo Corp. logo is displayed outside of the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, Thursday, April 17, 2014.

Although Weibo may have waned slightly with the growth of Tencent's WeChat messaging app and other mobile services, the company believes that the dilution of the mobile Internet market is natural.

In addition, Weibo's Chairman Charles Chao said Thursday before the IPO that there is a potential for 1 billion mobile Internet users in China. Weibo has 25 percent of the approximately 300 million monthly active users on mobile Internet, Chao said. "So there's a lot of room to grow basically," he said during an interview on CNBC.

The company's revenue almost tripled to $188.3 million in 2013, while net loss narrowed to $38.1 million from $102.5 million, Reuters said.

Launched in 2009, Weibo lets its users share multimedia content from the outset, as opposed to Twitter's initial text-only capability. Commenting and reposting statuses on Weibo are similar to Facebook's share and comment functions.

Weibo, which means "micro blog" in Chinese, had 143.8 million monthly active users in March, Reuters said. Combined monthly active users for WeChat and its Chinese-language version Weixin was 355 million, Tencent reported in March.

Weibo's public offering comes ahead of the much-anticipated IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which plans to take a 30 percent stake in Weibo. Alibaba is expected to raise about $15 billion this year in what could be the biggest internet IPO since Facebook's listing in 2012.

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Goldman Sachs (Asia) and Credit Suisse were the lead underwriters for Weibo's offering.

As with many social media apps in China, concerns over censorship still exist. The South China Morning Post has reported that statuses with sensitive key words are often blocked or deleted, while a few microbloggers with viral defamatory posts have been arrested by the government.

Chao acknowledged that China does control some content, but that Weibo is generally "a very free platform."

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"Especially (as) Weibo is the first platform for Chinese people to express themselves, they can publish anything they want and they can dispute anything they want," he said. "So our ability to grow this platform is (that) we understand the market and we also understand how to comply with the local law so we can actually move this platform more effectively within the market."

—By CNBC.com with Reuters.

Symbol
Price
 
Change
%Change
GS
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CSGN
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700
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SINA
---
WB
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