The last few weeks have not been kind to tech companies. It has been especially tough on those that have not come public yet.
Nonetheless, there have been a few winners in the IPO game since U.S. markets started tumbling in March. Perhaps most surprising has been the strong performance of
. Sina went public on April 13 at $17 a share. It rose to 20 11/16 the first day. It floundered for a while but has since rallied. It closed New York trading Wednesday at 37 15/16, a roughly 123% increase from its offer price.
Not bad at all for this market, and the rally may not yet be over.
Given the market's recent antitech mood, Sina should have a lot going against it. It is a Chinese Internet portal and content site. Aside from the on-again, off-again tendencies of the Chinese government for cracking down on the Internet (the government could easily just step in and close the company), nobody likes anything with a dot-com attached to its name. And Sina shares the most disturbing quality of most dot-coms: A nebulous forecast for turning a profit. That's at least a few years down the road and probably around 2004.
Overall, investors have cooled considerably toward tech plays in China and other emerging markets.
, which integrates Asian-content sites, went public around the same time as Sina, and flopped. Its shares closed at 7 on Tuesday, down from the offering price of $15 a share. A buy rating issued by
W.R. Hambrecht & Co.
last week with a price target of 17 didn't help either.
The other famous -- or infamous -- Chinese Internet play has been
. It rose 1,200% from a low last summer to a high this past March. Since then, however, it's been more than halved, falling 60%. (However, it is important to note the stock has twice split two for one since December. Anybody who bought this company last fall at least has done very nicely.) In retrospect, the reason Chinadotcom did so well was because it was first out of the box. It was
Chinese/Asian Internet play for a while.
Why has Sina done so well? First, Sina is perhaps best-positioned to be the
of China, which is perhaps an improper comparison, since it has kicked Yahoo's butt in its attempts in the country. Sina is the most visited Web site in China, offering news and other information and it has gained a reputation for its reliability. Its timely news on the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade helped it gain favor with Chinese users, according to Andrew Foster, a portfolio manager at
Matthews International Funds
, which ironically has now helped Sina gain favor with U.S. investors. Foster and his colleague, fellow portfolio manager Richard Gao, took a pass on buying Sina because of the overall volatility in the
Nasdaq Stock Exchange
. Ever since, we've been "banging our heads," says Foster.
Of course, the potential in China is enormous. Internet usage is now doubling every six months. "We believe Sina.com is well positioned to take advantage of the exploding greater Chinese Internet market," wrote
Internet analyst Michael Graham last week, who rated the company a buy and likes Sina's broad network and understanding of the Chinese market.
This week, Sina solidified its position as a leading Chinese Internet player by signing a deal with
to deliver content over wireless phone systems, an area of explosive growth in the country.
Look for Sina to get a boost in the weeks ahead if China enters the
World Trade Organization
, which would make the future of the Internet in China much more secure. The vote in Congress to grant China permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) will occur in the next few weeks, so will a likely deal between China and the European Union on WTO entry. The PNTR vote is close, but most analysts expect it to pass. If it doesn't, China can still enter the WTO, but U.S. businesses and investors will be frozen out and the mood over investment prospects for the country will be sour.
Of course, after the WTO boost, Sina will undoubtedly look overvalued, and then, well, you know the rest.