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COFCO Womai, online retailer, planning IPO

By Wu Yiyao in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-25 07:36

Food giant COFCO Group's online food products retailer COFCO Womai seeks to raise funds from an initial public offering at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the company said in a listing application Monday.

Womai, backed by COFCO and Baidu, could raise $500 million to $600 million, said a report by Global Capital, which cited a banker with close knowledge of the trade.

The sponsors of the company are China Merchants Securities and Credit Suisse. The time of listing is not decided yet, according to the company's prospectus for investors.

Womai, started in 2009, has been loss-making for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016, with annual loss of 631 million yuan ($95 million), 978 million yuan and 887 million yuan, respectively. The company said it forecasts it will continue to post losses for the foreseeable future.

The loss for the company in the first half of this year was 839 million yuan, about 47 percent year-on-year rise.

Analysts said that as investors are more tolerant to loss-making companies, more such companies are likely to be listed, but profitability and business models are key to share price performance in the long run.

Womai said in a filing that the company could not guarantee that it will achieve net profit positive cash flow. The company will invest intensively on delivery infrastructure and technology platform, which will support the company's efforts to offer a wider range of products.

Companies to be listed at Hong Kong bourse need to pass one of several tests-either profitability, capitalization/revenue, or capitalization/cashflow.

Analysts said that as Womai is not profitable yet, it may choose to take a test other than that of profitability and could pass the hearing without many difficulties, but profitability remains a key for share price performance in the future.

Zhang Liang, an investment analyst with Shanghai Ruifeng Investment Advising, said Womai has an advantage in terms of the supply chain, considering COFCO's rich vein of suppliers and the fact that an online retailer platform ensures the company has a self-owned distribution channel.

"The business model of Womai is clear, and institutional investors with long-term strategy could be patient enough to wait for the day of profitability to come," he said.

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