Tencent. Picture: BLOOMBERG/GIULIA MARCHI
Tencent. Picture: BLOOMBERG/GIULIA MARCHI

Hong Kong — Tencent-backed Meituan-Dianping has started taking orders for a Hong Kong initial public offering that could raise as much as $4.4bn as it warned there was no guarantee it would ever become profitable.

The restaurant review and delivery giant is offering 480.27-million new Class B shares at HK$60 to HK$72 apiece, according to terms for the deal obtained by Bloomberg on Tuesday.

Five cornerstone investors including Tencent have agreed to buy a combined $1.5bn of stock in the offering, the terms show.

Meituan’s IPO will bankroll its costly expansion into businesses from ride-hailing to finance as it pursues an ambition to become a super-app in the vein of Tencent’s own WeChat.

That sets it up for a clash with Alibaba, which is spending billions to try to seize control of China’s $1.3-trillion food delivery and online services industry.

In ride-hailing, Meituan is taking on Didi Chuxing, the startup that defeated Uber in China.

Meituan’s IPO filings show a company growing rapidly but also haemorrhaging cash: it lost $2.9bn in 2017 on changes in the fair value of its preferred stock. Even without the accounting adjustment, its operating loss last year was 3.8-billion yuan ($557m).

The company released more details on its financial performance on Tuesday. In the four months ended April, revenue surged 95% to 15.8-billion yuan while its loss almost tripled to 22.8-billion yuan, which includes the impact of acquiring unprofitable bike sharing startup Mobike.

"We cannot assure you that Mobike or our business as a whole will achieve profitability in the future," it said in a filing.

Tencent has committed to buy $400m of stock in in Meituan’s IPO, while Oppenheimer agreed to invest $500 million, the terms show. Darsana Capital Partners will purchase $200 million of shares, while fellow hedge fund Landsdowne Partners agreed to invest $300 million. The China Structural Reform Fund committed to purchase $100 million, the terms show.

Meituan expects to take investor orders until September 12 and price the offering that day during US Eastern hours. It aims to start trading on September 20, the terms show.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are joint sponsors of the offering, while China Renaissance Holdings is sole financial adviser.

CEO Wang Xing founded Meituan.com in 2010 as a group-buying site similar to Groupon before a 2015 merger with Dianping, which provided reviews of restaurants and other local businesses.

Wang will remain controlling shareholder after the company lists, according to Meituan’s preliminary prospectus.

Meituan would be only the second company to list with weighted-voting rights in Hong Kong, after smartphone maker Xiaomi priced a $5.4bn share sale in June.

The city’s market regulators tweaked rules this year to try to attract more of China’s tech darlings, which like Alibaba have previously favoured the US

Meituan will try to get investors to focus on its rapid top-line expansion, in the tradition of Amazon.com and other fast-growth firms that bled money for years. It remains to be seen whether the market will overlook its significant spending on marketing.

Bloomberg