TikTok parent ByteDance seeks to raise $2.7 billion before listing businesses in Hong Kong

ByteDance is the world's most valuable start-up. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - ByteDance is in discussions to raise US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) before listing some of its businesses in Hong Kong, people familiar with the matter said, even as it seeks to avoid a ban on its TikTok service in the US.

The Chinese company is in talks with a group of investors including Sequoia over funding that would boost its valuation to US$180 billion, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing a private deal. ByteDance could then start preparing some of its biggest assets including Douyin and Toutiao for an initial public offering in Hong Kong, the people said. The company was last valued at US$140 billion, according to CB Insights.

The terms of the funding round may still change as negotiations are ongoing, the people said. A representative for ByteDance declined to comment, while a representative for Sequoia didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

ByteDance, already the world's most valuable start-up, is in the throes of fighting a Trump administration ban on TikTok in the US after the video service was labeled a national security threat. It's now seeking US and Chinese government approvals for a deal to sell a stake in the app to Oracle and Walmart, though negotiations have bogged down during the elections and legal battles over the implementation of the ban.

That deal, which included a condition that TikTok go public within 12 months on a US exchange, won Donald Trump's initial nod as a way to keep alive a social media phenom that's become the go-to repository of music videos for 100 million-plus Americans. ByteDance was seeking a valuation of US$60 billion for the app, Bloomberg News reported in September.

While the clash in the US has drawn global attention, ByteDance's services in China remain its most lucrative. Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok, surpassed 600 million daily active users in August, up from 400 million at the start of the year. The company said this week it plans to hire 10,000 more in the world's second-biggest economy by the end of this year.

Its largest local rival Kuaishou Technology filed for a Hong Kong initial public offering on Thursday, underscoring both the eye-popping growth of the Chinese short video arena as well as ByteDance's dominance of that scene. Kuaishou, or "fast hand," reported about 39 billion yuan (S$7.96 billion) of revenue in 2019, while ByteDance was said to have generated more than US$17 billion revenue in the same year. While the pre-listing document didn't provide a fundraising target, people familiar with the matter said in September that the potential share sale could raise as much as US$5 billion.

Toutiao, a news service driven by artificial intelligence recommendations, was the company's first breakout hit and has surged in popularity in China.

ByteDance's billionaire founder Zhang Yiming is still fighting to hold onto some control over TikTok, an app he built into a genuine challenger to Google and Facebook Inc. Under the proposed deal with the Trump administration, TikTok would be spun out of ByteDance, set up a global headquarters in the US and sell a 20 per cent stake to Oracle and Walmart.

ByteDance has said it intends to retain the other 80 per cent, although its partners have said the shares in the new TikTok Global would have to be distributed to ByteDance's current shareholders. Those include American venture firms, including General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital.

At the same time, ByteDance has sued the US government to prevent a ban. In October, a federal judge in Pennsylvania blocked a broad set of government restrictions designed to curb the use of TikTok in the US

TikTok emerged as a top target in Trump's effort to crack down on China ahead of the US elections. Tensions between Washington and Beijing escalated after his administration waged a campaign to contain the country's technology ascendancy that also ensnared Tencent Holdings Ltd., now fighting a similar executive order banning its WeChat super-app.

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