Chao says Sina, Weibo, not for sale despite rumored Alibaba bid

Chao says Sina, Weibo, not for sale

Chinese internet portal Sina and the popular microblog Weibo are not for sale, at least for now, Sina boss Charles Chao told CNBC.

Speaking exclusively to CNBC on the sidelines of the China Entrepreneur Club's annual summit in Jinan at the weekend, Chao, Sina's chairman and chief executive, said that a sale was not something he had considered.

"Given the two parts of the business, one is slow and one is growing very fast, we'll seek the capital markets transaction if there is a good fit but right now, we don't have any plans to do that," he said.

Like English-language counterpart Yahoo, Sina is struggling to expand its traditional website business as the exponential growth in social media sends more traffic to Twitter-like Weibo. Sina remained a majority shareholder after the microblog listed in the U.S. last year.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is Weibo's second largest shareholder, with a 30 percent stake. According to a Wall Street Journal report on April 22, Alibaba's plan to raise up to $4 billion from a syndicated loan had prompted speculation that a bid for Weibo was in the works. The report also speculated that Alibaba could potentially buy Sina itself.

"I don't think there's anything concrete going on here and I think at the end of the day, it's for Alibaba to assess whether there are synergies, not from us," Chao said. "Obviously, if there's anything that's good for the shareholders of the company, we'll consider but right now, I don't think there's anything concrete going on."

For now, Chao said he was focused on monetizing both platforms. On Weibo, new initiatives include the recent launch of a broadcasting business, as well as e-commerce offerings.

China's Weibo CEO Charles Chao.
We have underinvested: Sina CEO

In its recent 2015 results release, Sina posted a 16 percent on-year rise in online advertising revenues to $743.2 million. The growth was largely attributed to a $137.6 million improvement in Weibo advertising revenues, which offset a decline of $34.7 million on the portal side.

To arrest the declines in portal ad revenues, Chao is betting on mobile.

"What we have been doing is to invest heavily in the mobile portal, which by the way is doing very well and our unit growth has been fantastic in the last few years. Each year, we grow about 30 to 40 percent in usage and user base, and it's the largest mobile site in China right now," he said.

The big challenge, however, was making mobile pay; Chao admits that monetization of the mobile site had not yet caught up with growth.

"We have to do more in this area to seek more business opportunities like we've been working in some of the vertical areas like finance, sports and automobiles," he said.

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