Caixin
Nov 05, 2018 08:46 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Tencent-Backed WeBank Hits $21 Billion Valuation

WeBank's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Photo: VCG
WeBank's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Photo: VCG

Tencent-backed online lender WeBank Co. Ltd. has reached a sky-high valuation of 147 billion yuan ($21 billion) after less than four years in operation, becoming one of the world’s largest “unicorn” companies.

The new valuation is based on a legal document (link in Chinese) attached to an auction notice on Taobao.com, which described the upcoming auction of a minor stake in WeBank.

The notice said Brightoil Petroleum (Holdings) Ltd. had been ordered to auction off 12.6 million of the WeBank shares it owns after failing to repay a bank loan, with a starting price of 441 million yuan.

Brightoil holds a total of 120 million WeBank shares, accounting for 2.86% of the lender’s total shares, the notice said. Social media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. owns a 30% stake in WeBank.

The sale will see Brightoil disposing of 10.5% of its 2.86% holding in WeBank, valuing the micro-lender at 147 billion yuan, based on Caixin calculations.

According to a list of private companies compiled by data collector CB Insights, major U.S. rocket “unicorn” SpaceX was valued at $21.5 billion as of August 2018. 

WeBank’s latest valuation makes it the fifth most valuable privately-held company in the world, based on the CB Insights list.

WeBank was launched in December 2014, just before China started a pilot program granting online lending licenses to non-bank operators in 2015.

Together with rival MyBank, backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., WeBank was among a small group picked for the pilot program, which was aimed at bringing private money into the financial sector and giving China’s small and mid-size businesses better access to credit. Such businesses have been chronically underserved by traditional banks, nearly all of which are state-owned and accustomed to lending to state-run enterprises with strong government ties and access to real estate that can be used as collateral.

WeBank posted a net income of 1.45 billion yuan last year, more than three times its income in 2016. It had a loss of 583.8 million in its first operational year in 2015, according to its financial report (link in Chinese) published in August.

Its bad loan ratio, however, shot up to 0.64% last year from 0.32% in 2016, and 0.12% in 2015.

Mo Yelin contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jason Tan (jasontan@caixin.com)

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