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Chinese Chip IPOs Hitting a Brick Wall

Baidu's (BIDU) spectacular August IPO may have put some glitter on China's emerging tech industry. But when it comes to offerings for Chinese chip companies, investors are less enthused.

Actions Semiconductor (ACTS), a Chinese chipmaker for MP3 players, made its Wall Street debut Wednesday and received a decidedly frosty reception. After postponing its IPO date and lowering its offering price, Actions Semi went public at $8 a share and closed at the same price, with its stock never budging higher than $8.25.

Vimicro International (VIMC), another fabless semiconductor maker from China, had its own IPO two weeks earlier with even worse results -- shares opened at $10 and immediately headed south. At Thursday's market close they stood at $8.51.

This lackluster performance is in sharp contrast to some of the companies' compatriots. Overall, Chinese companies have fared well in U.S. public offerings. The average gain of Chinese IPOs dating back to 2003 is 41%, says John Fitzgibbon, an analyst with IPODesktop.

But this rising tide has eluded Chinese semiconductor companies. "Obviously the tape is telling you the investors aren't buying into it," says Fitzgibbon, whose firm has no banking relationship with the companies mentioned in this story.

A combination of limited track records -- Actions Semi and Vimicro began operations in 2001 and 1999, respectively -- and concerns over intellectual property and accounting practices in China may be giving investors cold feet, say some analysts.

And the chip companies simply may have had the misfortune of tapping the public markets at a time when semiconductor companies are not in demand.

"These companies may be performing well relative to the industry, but the industry does not have the attention of Wall Street right now," says Bill Tai, a partner at venture capital firm Charles River Ventures.

Tai points to Beijing-based Semiconductor International Manufacturing (SMI), a bellwether of Chinese semiconductor companies, whose stock is down roughly 50% since March 2004.

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