SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
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☒ Item 17 ◻ Item 18
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
In this annual report, except where the context otherwise requires and for purposes of this annual report only:
|●||“we,” “us,” “our company,” “the Company” or “our” refers to Weibo Corporation, a Cayman Islands company, its subsidiaries, and, in the context of describing its operations and consolidated financial information, its VIEs in China;|
|●||“Weibo” refers to our social media platform and the products and services that we provide to users, customers and platform partners through that platform;|
|●||“SINA” refers to Sina Corporation, our parent company and controlling shareholder;|
|●||“China” or “PRC” refers to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purpose of this annual report only, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, and Taiwan;|
|●||“MAUs” refers to monthly active users, which are Weibo users who logged on with a unique Weibo ID and accessed Weibo through our website, mobile website, desktop or mobile applications, SMS or connections via our platform partners’ websites or applications that are integrated with Weibo, during a given calendar month. The numbers of our MAUs are calculated using internal company data that has not been independently verified, and we treat each account as a separate user for purposes of calculating MAUs, although it is possible that certain individuals or organizations may have set up on more than one account and certain accounts are used by multiple individuals within an organization;|
|●||“DAUs” refers to daily active users, which are Weibo users who logged on with a unique Weibo ID and accessed Weibo through our website, mobile website, desktop or mobile applications, SMS or connections via our platform partners’ websites or applications that are integrated with Weibo, on a given day, and “average DAUs” for a month refers to the average of the DAUs for each day during the month. The numbers of our DAUs are calculated using internal company data that has not been independently verified and we treat each account as a separate user for purposes of calculating DAUs, although it is possible that certain individuals or organizations may have set up on more than one account and certain accounts are used by multiple individuals within an organization;|
|●||“feeds” include both posts and reposts;|
|●||“shares” or “ordinary shares” refers to our Class A and Class B ordinary shares, par value $0.00025 per share;|
|●||“ADSs” refers to our American depositary shares. Each ADS represents one Class A ordinary share;|
|●||“GAAP” refers to generally accepted accounting principles in the United States;|
|●||all references to “RMB” or “renminbi” are to the legal currency of China, and all references to “$,” “dollars,” “US$” and “U.S. dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from RMB to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to RMB in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, the exchange rate on December 31, 2020 as set forth in the H.10 statistical release published by the Federal Reserve Board; and|
|●||all discrepancies in any table between the amounts identified as total amounts and the sum of the amounts listed therein are due to rounding.|
INFORMATION REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This annual report contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of current or historical facts are forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You can identify these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “likely to” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements about:
|●||our goals and strategies;|
|●||our future business development, financial condition and results of operations;|
|●||expected changes in our revenues, costs or expenditures;|
|●||the growth of social media, internet and mobile users and internet and mobile advertising in China; and|
|●||PRC governmental policies relating to media, the internet, internet content providers and online advertising.|
You should thoroughly read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. Other sections of this annual report include additional factors which could adversely impact our business and financial performance. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.
Item 1. Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers
Item 2. Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable
Item 3. Key Information
A.Selected Financial Data
The following table presents the selected consolidated financial information of our company. Our selected consolidated statements of operations data presented below for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and our selected consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. Our selected consolidated statements of operations data presented below for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2017 and our selected consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 have been derived from our consolidated financial statements which are not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
You should read the selected consolidated financial information in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” included elsewhere in this annual report. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of our results expected for future periods.
For the Year Ended December 31,
(in $ thousands, except for per share and per ADS data)
Selected Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:
Advertising and marketing revenues:
SINA and other related parties
Value-added services revenues
Costs and expenses:
Cost of revenues(3)
Sales and marketing(3)
General and administrative(3)(4)
Goodwill and acquired intangibles impairment
Total costs and expenses
Income from operations
Income (loss) from equity method investments
Realized gain (loss) from investments
Fair value changes through earnings on investments, net(5)
Investment related impairment
Other income, net
Income before income tax expenses
Less: Provision of income taxes
Less: Net income (loss) attributable to the non-controlling interests and redeemable non-controlling interests
Net income attributable to Weibo's shareholders
Other comprehensive income (loss)
Currency translation adjustments
Change in unrealized loss from available-for-sale securities
Reclassification adjustment for net loss included in net income
Total comprehensive income
Less: Comprehensive income (loss) attributable to non-controlling interests and redeemable non-controlling interests
Comprehensive income attributable to Weibo's shareholders
Shares used in computing net income per share attributable to Weibo's shareholders:
Income per ordinary share:
Income per ADS(6):
|(1)||On January 1, 2018, we adopted new revenue guidance ASC Topic 606, “Revenue from Contracts with Customers,” using the modified retrospective method applied to those contracts which were not completed as of January 1, 2018. Results for reporting periods beginning after January 1, 2018 are presented under Topic 606, while prior period amounts are not adjusted and continue to be reported in accordance with our historic accounting method under Topic 605. Topic 606 requires the presentation of value added tax (“VAT”) recognized in revenues from “gross” to “net,” which results in equal decrease in revenues and cost of revenues, and recognition of revenues and expenses at fair value for advertising barter transactions.|
|(2)||During 2020, we recorded $152.0 million in advertising and marketing revenues from Alibaba.Moreover, one of Alibaba’s subsidiaries engaged in the business of advertising agency and contributed another $36.6 million to our total revenues in 2020.|
|(3)||Stock-based compensation was allocated in costs and expenses as follows:|
For the Year Ended December 31,
(in $ thousands)
Cost of revenues
Sales and marketing
General and administrative
|(4)||We adopted ASU 2016-13, "Financial Instruments-Credit Losses (Topic 326), Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments" in the fiscal year of 2020. The guidance requires the measurement and recognition of expected credit losses for financial assets held at amortized cost that an entity does not expect to collect over the asset's contractual life, considering past events, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts of future economic conditions.|
|(5)||We adopted ASU 2016-01 “Classification and Measurement of Financial Instruments” beginning the first quarter of fiscal year 2018. After the adoption of the new accounting update, we measure investments in equity securities, other than equity method investments, at fair value through earnings. For those investments without readily determinable fair values, we elected to record these investments at cost, less impairment, and plus or minus subsequent adjustments for observable price changes. Changes in the basis of these investments are reported in current earnings.|
|(6)||Each ADS represents one Class A ordinary share.|
As of December 31,
(in $ thousands)
Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents
Amount due from SINA
Unsecured senior notes
Additional paid-in capital
Retained earnings (Accumulated deficit)
Total shareholders’ equity
|(1)||We adopted the new leasing guidance (ASU 2016-2) from January 1, 2019, which requires that a lessee recognize the assets and liabilities that arise from operating leases. We recognized a right-of-use asset and a liability relating to lease payments (the Lease Liability) in the statements of financial position for lease contracts having terms beyond 12 months period.|
B.Capitalization and Indebtedness
C.Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Risks Relating to Our Business
If we fail to grow our active user base, or if user engagement on our platform declines, our business, financial condition and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
The growth of our active user base and the level of user engagement are critical to our business. We had 521 million MAUs and 225 million average DAUs in December 2020. Our business has been and will continue to be significantly affected by our success in growing and retaining massive active users and increasing their overall level of engagement on our platform, including their engagement with promoted feeds, other advertising and marketing products and value-added services on our platform. We anticipate that our user growth rate will slow over time as the size of our user base increases and as we achieve higher market penetration in China’s internet population. To the extent our user growth rate slows or the number of our users declines, our success will become increasingly dependent on our ability to retain existing users and enhance user activities and stickiness on the platform. If people do not perceive content and other products and services on our platform to be interesting and useful, we may not be able to retain and attract users or increase their engagement. A number of user-oriented websites and mobile applications that achieved early popularity have since seen their user bases or levels of engagement decline, in some cases precipitously. There is no guarantee that we will not experience a similar erosion of our active user base or engagement level. A number of factors could potentially negatively affect user growth and engagement, including if:
|●||we are unable to retain existing users and attract new users to our platform, or achieve greater penetration into lower tier cities in China;|
|●||there is a decrease in the perceived quality or reliability of the content generated by our users;|
|●||a large number of influencers, such as celebrities, key opinion leaders, or KOLs and other public figures, and platform partners, such as media outlets and organizations with media rights, switch to alternative platforms or use other products and services more frequently;|
|●||we are unable to manage and prioritize information to ensure users are presented with content that is appropriate, interesting, useful and relevant;|
|●||we fail to introduce new and improved products or services or we introduce new or improved products or services that are not well received by users;|
|●||technical or other problems prevent us from delivering our products or services in a rapid and reliable manner or otherwise adversely affect the user experience;|
|●||users believe that their experience is diminished as a result of the decisions we make with respect to the frequency, relevance, prominence, format and quality of the advertisements displayed on our platform;|
|●||we are unable to combat spam or other hostile or inappropriate usage on our platform;|
|●||there are user concerns related to privacy and communication, safety, security or other factors;|
|●||we fail to provide adequate customer service to our users;|
|●||users engage with other platforms or activities instead of ours;|
|●||there are adverse changes in our products or services that are mandated by, or that we elect to make to address, legislation, regulations or government policies; or|
|●||we fail to maintain our brand image or our reputation is damaged.|
We have undertaken various initiatives to stimulate the growth of our users and user engagement. For instance, in addition to the microblogging service with which Weibo originally started, we have added functionalities such as trends, topics, search, short videos, live streaming and interest-based information feeds over the years, which we believe have helped broaden our appeal and generate more user traffic and engagement. However, there can be no assurance that these and other strategies will continue to be effective. If we are unable to increase our user base and user engagement, our platform could be less attractive to potential new and existing users and customers, which would have a material and adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results.
If our users and platform partners do not continue to contribute content or their contributions are not valuable to other users, we may experience a decline in user traffic and user engagement.
Our success depends on our ability to provide users with interesting and useful content, which in turn depends on the content contributed by our users and platform partners. We believe that one of our competitive advantages is the quality, quantity and open nature of the content on Weibo, and that access to rich content is one of the main reasons users visit Weibo. We seek to foster a broader and more engaged user community, and we encourage influencers, such as celebrities, KOLs and other public figures, and platform partners, such as multi-channel networks, (the “MCNs”), media outlets and organizations with media rights, to use our platform to express their views and share interesting, and high quality content.
Among all our users, influencers have been contributing increasingly interesting and attractive contents on our platform. We provide these content creators with the opportunity to monetize their social assets on Weibo through advertising, e-commerce, paid-subscription, tipping and other means. If content creators do not see significant value from their social marketing activities on Weibo and find monetization on Weibo inadequate, we may have to subsidize them through direct content cost payout, which may have an adverse and material impact on our business and operating results. Alternatively, content creators may choose to switch to other platforms and contribute less or no content to Weibo, which may cause our user base and user engagement to decline and our customers view our products and services less attractive for advertising and marketing purposes and consequently reduce their advertising spending on our platform.
If users and platform partners do not continue to contribute content to Weibo due to policy changes, their use of alternative communication channels or any other reasons, and we are unable to provide users with interesting, useful and timely content, our user base and user engagement may decline. If we experience a decline in the number of users or the level of user engagement, customers may not view our products and services as attractive for their advertising and marketing expenditures and may reduce their spending with us, which would materially harm our business and operating results.
We rely on our partnership program with channel partners, which mainly include application pre-install partners, programmatic buying partners and application marketplaces, to drive traffic to our platform, and if our partnership program becomes less effective or if the smartphone market slows down compared to the prior years, traffic to our platform could decline and our business and operating results could be adversely affected.
We work with application (app) pre-install partners, such as key domestic handset manufacturers for user acquisition and activation. Due to intense competition in the marketplace, app pre-install partners may raise prices to a point where it becomes cost prohibitive for us to rely on them for Weibo user activation, or they may decide to discontinue their services to us altogether. The partnership also highly depends on the total amount of handset shipment and sales of our partners, which may fluctuate or slow down compared with prior years.
We also work with programmatic buying partners, such as top applications for traffic direction and user activation. Due to the real time bidding nature of programmatic buying, the prices for inventories on top applications may fluctuate or surge to a point where it becomes less cost effective for us to invest in the channel. In addition, inaccurate user targeting and the possible high churn rate observed during the traffic direction step may also limit the overall effectiveness of the partnership.
In addition, we work with application marketplaces, including app stores of key domestic handset manufacturers as well as other major application marketplaces, such as Tencent App Store, Baidu Mobile Assistant and 360 Mobile Assistant, to drive downloads of our mobile applications. In the future, Google (Android), Apple or other operators of application marketplaces may make changes to their marketplaces and make access to our products and services more difficult.
If we are unable to compete effectively for user traffic or user engagement, our business and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
Competition for user traffic and user engagement is intense and we face strong competition in our business. Major Chinese internet companies, such as Tencent and Bytedance, compete directly with us for user traffic and user engagement, content, talent and marketing resources. As a social media featuring social networking services and messenger features, we are subject to intense competition from providers of similar services as well as potentially new types of online services. These services include (i) messengers and other social apps and sites, such as Weixin/WeChat, QQ Mobile, Qzone Mobile and Momo; (ii) news apps and sites, such as those operated by other major internet companies, including Tencent, Bytedance, Baidu, NetEase, Sohu and Phoenix News Media; (iii) multimedia apps (photo, video and live streaming, etc.), such as Douyin/TikTok, Kuaishou, Bilibili, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, Xigua Video, Red (Xiaohongshu), Momo and JOYY. In addition, as a media platform in nature, we also compete with traditional media companies for audiences and content.
We also compete with both offline and online games for the time and money of gamers. We offer social commerce solutions to our customers that enable them to conduct e-commerce on our platform. Consequently, our offerings compete with e-commerce companies and online verticals that enable merchants to conduct e-commerce, including location-based services and online-to-offline services. In addition to direct competition, we face indirect competition from companies that sponsor or maintain high traffic volume websites or provide an initial point of entry for internet users, including but not limited to providers of search services, web browser and navigation pages, such as Baidu, UC Web and Qihoo 360. We may also face competition from global social media, social networking services and messengers, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, TikTok, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Pinterest, Line and Kakao Talk. Some of our competitors may have substantially more cash, traffic, technical and other resources than we do. We may be unable to compete successfully against these competitors or new market entrants, which may adversely affect our business and financial performance.
We believe that our ability to compete effectively for user traffic and user engagement depends upon many factors both within and beyond our control, including:
|●||the popularity, usefulness, ease of use, performance and reliability of our products and services compared to those of our competitors;|
|●||the amount, quality and timeliness of content aggregated on our platform;|
|●||our ability to enable celebrities, KOLs, media outlets and other content creators to quickly and efficiently build a fan base and monetize from their social assets;|
|●||our ability, and the ability of our competitors, to develop new products and services and enhancements to existing products and services to keep up with user preferences and demands;|
|●||the frequency, relevance and relative prominence of the advertisements displayed by us or our competitors;|
|●||our ability to establish and maintain relationships with platform partners;|
|●||our ability to provide effective customer service and support;|
|●||changes mandated by, or that we elect to make to address, legislation, regulations or government policies, some of which may have a disproportionate effect on us;|
|●||acquisitions or consolidation within our industry, which may result in more formidable competitors; and|
|●||our reputation and brand strength relative to our competitors.|
We may not be able to maintain or grow our revenues or our business.
We have experienced significant growth in revenues and in our business in recent years. Our ability to continue to grow our revenues depends on a number of factors. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results—Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations” for a detailed discussion.
Our revenue growth also depends on our ability to continue to grow our core businesses, newly-developed businesses, as well as businesses we have acquired or which we consolidated. We are exploring and will continue to explore in the future new business initiatives, including in industries and markets in which we have limited or no experience, as well as new business models, that may be untested. Developing new businesses, initiatives and models requires significant investments of time and resources, and may present new and difficult technological, operational and compliance challenges. Many of these challenges may be specific to business areas with which we do not have sufficient experience. We may encounter difficulties or setbacks in the execution of various growth strategies and these growth strategies may not generate the returns we expect within the timeframe we anticipate, or at all.
In addition, our overall or segment revenue growth may slow or our revenues may decline for other reasons, including increasing competition and slowing growth of China’s smartphone market, disruptions to China’s economy or the global economy from pandemics, natural disasters or other events, as well as changes in the geopolitical landscape, government policies or general economic conditions. As our revenue grows to a higher base level, our revenue growth rate may slow in the future. Furthermore, due to the size and scale we have achieved, our user base may decrease, not continue to grow as quickly or at all.
We generate a substantial majority of our revenues from online advertising and marketing services. If we fail to generate sustainable revenue and profit through our advertising and marketing services, our result of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We started to generate revenues in 2012 through advertising and marketing services, and to a less extent also through value-added services. Ever since then, advertising and marketing services have been contributing a substantial majority of our total revenues, accounting for approximately 88% of our revenues in 2020. Therefore, any failure to continue generating sustainable revenue and profit through our advertising and marketing services could materially harm our business.
Compared with traditional advertising and marketing solutions, online advertising and marketing services are evolving rapidly and sometimes considered experimental. In addition, we, as well as the whole industry, are endeavoring to develop novel forms of advertising and marketing services. As a result, we cannot guarantee that the advertising and marketing strategies we have adopted can generate sustainable revenues and profit. Particularly, as is common in the industry, our advertising and marketing customers do not have long-term commitments with us. In addition, some potential new customers may view our advertising and marketing services as unproven, and we may need to devote additional time and resources to convince them. Customers will not continue to do business with us or may only be willing to advertise with us at reduced prices if we do not deliver advertising and marketing services in an effective manner, or if they do not believe that their investment in advertising and marketing with us will generate a competitive return relative to alternative advertising platforms.
Our ability to add new customers and increase spending of existing customers can be particularly affected by our ability to provide timely and reliable measurement analysis of customers’ advertising campaigns on Weibo, as some customers, especially key accounts, rely on advertisement measurement to evaluate advertising effectiveness. We are working with third-party measurement firms to provide these data services to our customers but the online advertisement measurement market in China is nascent. We cannot assure you that our measurement partners will be able to provide measurement to the satisfaction of our customers. If our customers are unable to obtain measurement results on their marketing campaigns on Weibo to their satisfaction, our customers may be less willing to maintain or expand their advertising spending on our platform, and our financial conditions, results of operations and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
We also need to adapt our advertising and marketing service offerings to the way users consume contents on our platforms. We introduced mobile-adapted promoted marketing solutions, such as promoted feeds, to our advertisers as our mobile products gain more user traffic. Users’ preferences on content format are also evolving. Online content in video format has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. If we are unable to adapt our products and services for the video environment and develop products and services to generate video advertising revenues, especially for the mobile environment, our results of operations and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
Advertisements shown on our platform may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions.
Under PRC advertising laws and regulations, we are obligated to monitor the advertising content shown on our platform to ensure that such content is true and accurate and in compliance with applicable PRC laws and regulations. PRC advertising laws and regulations impose prohibitions and restrictions on certain types of advertisements. For instance, advertisements for certain products, such as tobacco, are not allowed to be publicly posted, and advertisements for other products and services, such as alcohol, medical treatment, pharmaceuticals or medical devices, healthcare food, real estate and financial products, are subject to certain restrictions on content and other requirements. In addition, where a review by relevant governmental authorities is required before certain types of advertisements can be posted, such as advertisements for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, we are obligated to confirm that such review has been performed and approval has been obtained.
The Chinese government may from time to time promulgate new advertising laws and regulations, including possible additional restrictions on online advertising services. In addition, recent activities and technology trends in advertising, such as links in comments or posts, and the proliferation of short video and live streaming platforms, with paid promotions that are frequently not marked as advertising, have made advertising content monitoring more challenging. Moreover, technologies and tools attempting to circumvent, evade or deceive our advertisement content monitoring system are evolving, which makes it more complicated for us to monitor and review the advertisements on our platform. When we discover advertisements that violate laws and regulations, we will timely take corresponding measures. Although we have made significant efforts to ensure that the advertisements shown on our platform are in full compliance with applicable PRC laws and regulations, we cannot ensure that we will be in compliance at all times with the requirements under any new laws and regulations. Failure to comply with these obligations may subject us to fines and other administrative penalties.
If advertisements shown on our platform are in violation of relevant PRC advertising laws and regulations, we may be subject to penalties. For example, In 2018, Beijing Haidian Market Supervision Administration issued a decisions to impose an administrative penalty on Weimeng, including a fine of RMB200,000 on Weibo and confiscation of the advertising revenue of RMB1,171.19, because the authorities was of the opinion that certain advertisements published on Weibo contained content that violated “good social customs.” We paid the fine and cooperated with the relevant government authorities to take corrective measures as required. However, there can be no assurance that there will not be any further penalties, which may have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects, brand and reputation.
If we are unable to compete effectively for advertising and marketing spending, our business and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
In addition to intense competition for users and user engagement, we also face significant competition for advertising and marketing spending. A substantial majority of our revenues are currently generated through advertising and marketing services. We compete against online and mobile businesses that offer such services, mainly including Tencent, Bytedance, Baidu, Kuaishou, iQiyi, NetEase and Sohu. We also compete with internet companies that offer online-to-offline (O2O), purchase solutions and other performance-based advertising and marketing services and digital media tailored to specific vertical industries including fast moving consumer goods, IT, automobile, e-commerce, entertainment and travel, such as Meituan, Autohome, Bitauto and Qutoutiao. We also compete against traditional media outlets, such as television, radio and print, for advertising and marketing budgets.
In order to grow our revenues and improve our operating results, we must increase our market share of advertising and marketing spending relative to our competitors, many of which are larger companies that offer more traditional and widely accepted advertising products. In addition, some of our larger competitors have substantially broader product or service offerings and leverage their relationships based on other products or services to gain additional share of advertising and marketing budgets.
We believe that our ability to compete effectively for advertising and marketing spending depends upon many factors both within and beyond our control, including:
|●||the size, composition and activeness of our user base relative to those of our competitors;|
|●||the breadth, innovation and effectiveness of our online and mobile-offerings;|
|●||the timing and market acceptance of our advertising and marketing products and services, including breadth, quality and variety of our advertisement formats and features and those of our competitors;|
|●||the effectiveness of our advertisement targeting capabilities, and those of our competitors;|
|●||the volume, pricing and return on investment of our products and services relative to those of our competitors;|
|●||the reach, engagement and effectiveness of our advertising and marketing products and services relative to those of our competitors;|
|●||the availability, accuracy and utility of analytics and measurement solutions offered by us or our partners relative to those of our competitors;|
|●||our ability to attract, retain and motivate talented employees;|
|●||the effectiveness of our performance-based advertisements and real-time bidding system relative to those of our competitors;|
|●||our sales and marketing efforts, and those of our competitors; and|
|●||our reputation and the strength of our brand relative to our competitors.|
Significant acquisitions and consolidation by and among our actual and potential competitors may present heightened competitive challenges for our business. Acquisitions of our platform partners by our competitors could result in reduced content and functionality of our products and services. Consolidation may also enable our larger competitors to offer bundled or integrated products that feature alternatives to our platform. Reduced content and functionality of our products and services, or our competitors’ ability to offer bundled or integrated products that compete directly with us, may cause our user base and user engagement to decline and customers to reduce their spending with us. If we are not able to compete effectively for advertising and marketing spending, our business and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
Our limited operating history makes it difficult to evaluate our future prospects.
The market for social media is still evolving and may not develop as expected. People who are not our users, customers or platform partners may not understand the value of our products and services and new users, customers or platform partners may initially find our products and services confusing. There may be a perception that our products and services are only useful to users who post, or to influential users with large audiences. Convincing potential new users, customers and platform partners of the value of our products and services is critical to increasing the number of our users, customers and platform partners and to the success of our business. Although we have experienced continued user growth as shown by the increase of our MAU and DAU for the past few years, some of our peers may have experienced a decline in user base. If microblogging, social media, online media or social product, in general, declines in popularity among Chinese internet users, we may be unable to grow our user base or maintain or increase user engagement.
We have a limited operating history. We launched Weibo in August 2009 and began to generate revenues in 2012, which makes it difficult to effectively assess our future prospects or forecast our future results. You should consider our business and prospects in light of the risks and challenges we encounter or may encounter in this developing and rapidly evolving market. These risks and challenges include our ability to, among other things:
|●||increase the number of our users and the level of user engagement;|
|●||develop a reliable, scalable, secure, high-performance technology infrastructure that can efficiently handle increased usage;|
|●||convince customers of the benefits of our advertising and marketing services compared to alternative forms of advertising and marketing;|
|●||refine our social interest graph, or SIG, recommendation engine to enable more relevant content recommendation and effective audience targeting;|
|●||increase demand for value-added services, such as VIP membership, live streaming, and game-related services;|
|●||develop and deploy new features, products and services for our users, customers and platform partners, including video functionalities and interest-based information feeds;|
|●||successfully compete with other companies, some of which have substantially greater resources and market power than us, that are currently in, or may in the future enter, our industry, or duplicate the features of our products and services;|
|●||attract, retain and motivate talented employees;|
|●||process, store, protect and use personal data in compliance with governmental regulations, contractual obligations and other obligations related to privacy and security; and|
|●||defend ourselves against litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, privacy or other claims.|
If we fail to educate potential users, customers and platform partners about the value of our products and services, if the market for our platform does not develop as we expect or if we fail to address the needs of this market, our business will be harmed. Failure to adequately address these or other risks and challenges could harm our business and cause our operating results to suffer.
Alibaba is our largest customer and an important strategic partner. If we fail to maintain our collaboration with Alibaba, our results of operations and growth prospect may be adversely and materially affected.
From April 2013 to January 2016, we had a strategic collaboration with Alibaba and its affiliated entities to jointly explore social commerce and develop innovative marketing solutions to enable merchants on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms to better connect and build relationships with our users. Revenues generated from the strategic collaboration with Alibaba accounted for approximately 30% of our revenues from 2013 to 2015. Although revenue contribution by Alibaba has declined as a percentage to our total revenues in recent years, as a result of the rapid growth of our business scale as well as our strategy to diversify revenue sources after the strategic collaboration agreement expired in early 2016, Alibaba remains as our largest customer. More importantly, we rely on them to enable us to offer e-commerce advertising solutions to brands and merchants on both of our platforms. If we are unable to either maintain strong cooperation with Alibaba or find other customers that can bring in similar amount of revenues to offset the possible decline of revenue from Alibaba or the revenue associated with Alibaba’s ecosystem, our results of operations and growth prospects may be adversely and materially affected.
Our future performance depends in part on support from our platform partners, particularly copyright content providers and MCNs.
Although most of the content on our platform come from individual users, platform partners have become an increasingly important source of high-quality content. We believe user engagement with our products and services depends in part on the quality of applications and content generated by our platform partners, particularly copyright content providers and the MCNs. Copyright content providers have traditionally been an important source of premium content on our platform. Meanwhile, as content on our platform expands into various new formats, such as short videos, the role of MCNs as talent agencies for professional content creators is becoming increasingly important. We have built a large network of MCNs in different domains, such as video and e-commerce, and we rely on these platform partners to incubate and grow content creators so that they share more quality content on Weibo. If we are unable to enjoy continued collaboration with copyright content providers and expand our network of MCNs and incentivize them to share more content, our content offerings may not be as robust and competitive and our user base and user engagement may be adversely and materially affected.
We also work closely with third-party developers to build Weibo-integrated applications to enhance Weibo’s functionalities. Such existing and prospective developers may not be successful in building, growing, or monetizing mobile and/or web applications that create, maintain and enhance user engagement. Additionally, developers may choose to build on other platforms rather to integrate with Weibo. We are continuously seeking to balance the distribution objectives of our developers with our desire to provide an optimal user experience, and we may not be successful in achieving a balance that continues to attract and retain such developers. If we are not successful in our efforts to continue to grow the number of developers that choose to build products that integrate with Weibo or if we are unable to continue to build and maintain good relationships with such developers, our user growth and user engagement and our financial results may be adversely and materially affected.
Our new products, services and initiatives and changes to existing products, services and initiatives could fail to attract users and customers or generate revenues.
Our ability to increase the size and engagement of our user base, attract customers and generate revenues will depend in part on our ability to create and offer successful new products and services. We may introduce significant changes to our existing products and services or develop and introduce new products and services, including technologies with which we have little or no prior development or operating experience. If new or enhanced products or services fail to engage users, customers and platform partners, we may fail to attract or retain users or to generate sufficient revenues to justify our investments, and our business and operating results could be adversely affected. In addition, we may launch strategic initiatives that do not directly generate revenues but which we believe will enhance our attractiveness to users, customers and platform partners. We may not be successful in future efforts to generate revenues from our new products or services. If our strategic initiatives do not enhance our ability to monetize our existing products and services or enable us to develop new approaches to monetization, we may not be able to maintain or grow our revenues or recover any associated development costs and our operating results may be adversely affected.
If we fail to effectively manage our growth, our business and operating results could be harmed.
We operate our business in a rapidly evolving industry and highly competitive market, which will continue to place significant demands on our management, operational and financial resources to sustainably grow our business. We may encounter difficulties as we establish and expand our operations, product development, sales and marketing, and general and administrative capabilities. We face significant competition for talented employees from other high-growth companies, which include both publicly traded and privately held companies, and we may not be able to hire new employees quickly enough to meet our needs. To attract highly skilled personnel, we have had to offer, and believe we will need to continue to offer, competitive compensation packages. As we continue to grow, we are subject to the risks of over-hiring, over-compensating our employees and over-expanding our operating infrastructure, and to the challenges of integrating, developing and motivating a growing employee base. In addition, we may not be able to innovate or execute as quickly as a smaller and more efficient organization. If we fail to effectively manage our hiring needs and successfully integrate our new hires, our efficiency and ability to meet our forecasts and our employee morale, productivity and retention could suffer, and our business and operating results could be adversely affected.
As we strive to broaden our user base, increase user engagement, and develop new features and products, we often have to proactively devote significant resources to accommodate future growth and to meet market demand. If market condition changes or we misjudged future demand, however, we may incur high costs and expenses relative to our return, which could negatively affect our operating results. In addition, copyright content is costly and the competition for it is fierce. Mismanagement of copyright content purchase and usage, such as focus on content that turn out to be less popular or loss of valuable copyright content to competitors, may lead to a disproportional increase in expenses and adversely affect our business.
Continued growth could also strain our ability to maintain reliable service levels for our users and customers, develop and improve our operational, financial, legal and management controls, and enhance our reporting systems and procedures. Our expenses may grow faster than our revenues, and our expenses may be greater than what we anticipate. Managing our growth will require significant expenditures and allocation of valuable management resources. If we fail to achieve the necessary level of efficiency in our organization as it grows, our business, operating results and financial condition could be harmed.
Our operating results may fluctuate from quarter to quarter, which makes it difficult to predict.
Our quarterly operating results have fluctuated in the past and will fluctuate in the future. As a result, our past quarterly operating results are not necessarily indicators of future performance. Our operating results in any given quarter can be influenced by numerous factors, many of which we are unable to predict or are outside of our control, including:
|●||our ability to grow our user base and user engagement;|
|●||fluctuations in spending by our advertising and marketing customers, including as a result of seasonality, major events and extraordinary news events, or other factors;|
|●||our ability to attract and retain advertising and marketing customers;|
|●||the occurrence of planned or unplanned significant events, including events that may cause substantial stock-based compensation or other charges;|
|●||the development and introduction of new products or services or changes in features of existing products or services;|
|●||the impact of competitors or competitive products and services;|
|●||the pricing of our products and services;|
|●||our ability to maintain or increase revenues;|
|●||our ability to maintain or improve gross margins, operating margins and net margins;|
|●||increases in our costs and expenses that we may incur to grow and expand our operations and to remain competitive;|
|●||system failure or outages, which could prevent us from displaying advertisements for any period of time;|
|●||changes in U.S. GAAP and the related policies, guidance or interpretations;|
|●||changes in the legal or regulatory environment or proceedings, including with respect to security, privacy or enforcement by government regulators, including fines, orders or consent decrees; and|
|●||changes in Chinese or global business or macroeconomic conditions.|
Given our limited operating history and the rapidly evolving market in which we compete, our historical operating results may not be useful to you in predicting our future operating results. Our limited operating history and our rapid growth make it difficult for us to identify recurring seasonal trends in our business. The advertising industry in China experiences seasonality. Historically, advertising spending tends to be the lowest in the first quarter of each calendar year due to long holidays around the Lunar New Year, and we believe that this seasonality affects our quarterly results. In addition, economic concerns continue to create uncertainty and unpredictability and add risk to our future outlook. An economic downturn in China or globally could cause our advertising and marketing customers to reduce their advertising budgets, and result in other adverse effects that could harm our operating results. Other factors that may cause our operating results to fluctuate include popular sports events, such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. Due to our rapid growth and limited operating history, the seasonal trends that we have experienced in the past may not apply to, or be indicative of, our future operating results.
Spam could diminish the user experience on our platform, which could damage our reputation and deter our current and potential users from using our products and services.
“Spam” on Weibo refers to a range of abusive activities that are prohibited by our terms of service and is generally defined as unsolicited actions that negatively impact other users with the general goal of drawing user attention to a given account, site, product or idea. This includes posting large numbers of unsolicited mentions of a user, duplicate feeds, misleading links (e.g., to malware or click-jacking pages) or other false or misleading content, and aggressively following and un-following accounts, adding users to lists, sending unsolicited invitations, reposting feeds and favoring feeds to inappropriately attract attention. Our terms of service also prohibit the creation of serial or bulk accounts, both manually or using automation, for disruptive or abusive purposes, such as to post spam or to artificially inflate the popularity of users seeking to promote themselves on Weibo. Although we continue to invest resources in reducing spam on Weibo, we expect spammers will continue to seek ways to act inappropriately on our platform. In addition, we expect that increases in the number of users on our platform will result in increased efforts by spammers to misuse our platform. We continuously combat spam, including by suspending or terminating accounts we believe to be spammers and launching algorithmic changes focused on curbing abusive activities. Our actions to combat spam require the diversion of significant time and focus of our engineering team from improving our products and services. If we are unable to effectively manage and reduce spam on Weibo, our reputation for delivering relevant content could be damaged, user engagement could decline and our operational costs could increase.
Privacy concerns relating to our products and services and the use of user information could damage our reputation, deter current and potential users and customers from using Weibo and negatively impact our business.
We collect personal data from our users in order to better understand our users and their needs and to help our customers target specific demographic groups. Concerns about the collection, use, disclosure or security of personal information or other privacy-related matters, even if unfounded, could damage our reputation, cause us to lose users and customers and adversely affect our operating results. While we strive to comply with applicable data protection laws and regulations, as well as our own posted privacy policies and other obligations we may have with respect to privacy and data protection, the failure or perceived failure to comply may result, and in some cases has resulted, in inquiries and other proceedings or actions against us by government agencies or others, as well as negative publicity and damage to our reputation and brand, each of which could cause us to lose users and customers, which could have an adverse effect on our business.
Any systems failure or compromise of our security that results in the unauthorized access to or release of our users’ or customers’ data could significantly limit the adoption of our products and services, as well as harm our reputation and brand and, therefore, our business. We strictly limit third-party developers’ access to user privacy and user data, and we expend significant resources on technology and product development to protect against leakage of user information and other security breaches. Nonetheless, given its great commercial value, our user data may still be misused by third-parties, which could expose us to legal and regulatory risks and seriously harm our business.
The PRC regulatory and enforcement regime with regard to data security and data protection is evolving. The PRC Civil Code and the PRC Cyber Security Law protect individual privacy and personal data security in general by requiring the internet service providers to obtain the consent from internet users prior to the collection, use or disclosure of internet users’ personal data. See “Item 4.B. Information on the Company—Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Internet Privacy.” In addition, the Cyber Security Law sets high requirements for the operational security of facilities deemed to be part of the PRC’s “critical information infrastructure.” See “—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of Cyber Security Law as well as any impact it may have on our business operations.” Furthermore, if privacy concerns or regulatory restrictions prevent us from selling demographically targeted advertising, we may become less attractive to our customers. In Hong Kong, however, the Hong Kong Personal Data Ordinance provides that an internet company may not collect information about its users, analyze the information for a profile of the user’s interests and sell or transmit the profiles to third parties for direct marketing purposes without the user’s consent. In the European Union, or EU, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which came into effect on May 25, 2018, present increased challenges and risks in relation to policies and procedures relating to data collection, storage, transfer, disclosure, protection and privacy, and will impose significant penalties for non-compliance, including for example, penalties calculated as a percentage of global revenue under the GDPR. Since the GDPR only came into effect recently, the potential risks associated with non-compliance therewith are uniquely difficult to predict. Other jurisdictions may have similar prohibitions. Although less than 1% of our revenues in 2020 are generated in Hong Kong, EU and other jurisdictions with similar prohibitions, we hope to attract more users in these jurisdictions and if we are unable to construct demographic profiles of internet users because they refuse to give consent, we will be less attractive to customers and our business could suffer.
New laws or regulations concerning data protection, or the interpretation and application of existing consumer and data protection laws or regulations, which is often uncertain and in flux, may be inconsistent with our practices. Complying with new laws, regulations and orders from competent governmental authorities could cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business.
If our security measures are breached, or if our products and services are subject to attacks that degrade or deny the ability of users to access our products and services, our products and services may be perceived as not being secure, users and customers may curtail or stop using our products and services and our business and operating results may be harmed.
Our products and services involve the storage and transmission of users’ and customers’ information, and security breaches expose us to a risk of loss of this information, litigation and potential liability. We experience cyber-attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis, including hacking into our user accounts and redirecting our user traffic to other websites, and we have been able to rectify attacks without significant impact to our operations in the past. Functions that facilitate interactivity with other websites, such as Weibo Connect, which among other things allows users to log in to partner websites using their Weibo identities, could increase the scope of access of hackers to user accounts. Our security measures may also be breached due to employee error, malfeasance or otherwise. Additionally, outside parties may attempt to fraudulently induce employees, users or customers to disclose sensitive information in order to gain access to our data or our users’ or customers’ data or accounts, or may otherwise obtain access to such data or accounts. Since our users and customers may use their Weibo accounts to establish and maintain online identities, unauthorized communications from Weibo accounts that have been compromised may damage their reputations and brands as well as ours. Any such breach or unauthorized access could result in significant legal and financial exposure, damage to our reputation and a loss of confidence in the security of our products and services that could have an adverse effect on our business and operating results. Because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access, disable or degrade service or sabotage systems change frequently and often are not recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. If an actual or perceived breach of our security occurs, the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures could be harmed, we could lose users and customers and we may be exposed to significant legal and financial risks, including legal claims and regulatory fines and penalties. Any of these actions could have a material and adverse effect on our business, reputation and operating results.
We rely on assumptions and estimates to calculate certain key operating metrics, and real or perceived inaccuracies in such metrics may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.
The numbers of daily and monthly active users of Weibo, average spending per advertiser and number of advertisement customers are calculated using internal company data that has not been independently verified. While these numbers are based on what we believe to be reasonable calculations for the applicable periods of measurement, there are inherent challenges in measuring usage and user engagement across our large user base. For example, there are a number of false or spam accounts in existence on Weibo. Although we continuously combat spam by suspending or terminating these accounts, our active user number may include a number of false or spam accounts and therefore may not accurately represent the actual number of active accounts. We treat each account as a separate user for purposes of calculating our active users, because it may not always be possible to identify people and organizations that have set up more than one account. Additionally, some accounts used by organizations are used by many people within the organization. Accordingly, the calculations of our active users may not accurately reflect the actual number of people or organizations using Weibo.
We regularly review and may adjust our processes for calculating our internal metrics to improve their accuracy. Our measures of user growth and user engagement may differ from estimates published by third parties or from similarly titled metrics used by our competitors due to differences in methodology. If customers, platform partners or investors do not perceive our user metrics to be accurate representations of our user base or user engagement, or if we discover material inaccuracies in our user metrics, our reputation may be harmed and customers and platform partners may be less willing to allocate their spending or resources to Weibo, which could negatively affect our business and operating results.
Our business is highly sensitive to the strength of our brand and market influence, and we may not be able to maintain current or attract new users, customers and platform partners for our products and services if we do not continue to increase the strength of our brand and develop new brands successfully in the marketplace.
Our operational and financial performance is highly dependent on the strength of our brand and market influence. Such dependency will increase further as the number of internet and mobile users as well as the number of market entrants in China grows. In order to retain existing and attract new internet users, customers and platform partners, we may need to substantially increase our expenditures to create and maintain brand awareness and brand loyalty.
In addition, we receive a high degree of media coverage in Chinese communities around the world. Negative coverage in the media of our company, including about our product quality and reliability, changes to our products and services, privacy and security practices, litigation, regulatory activity, the actions of our users, or the experience of our users, platform partners and advertisers with our products and services, even if inaccurate, could threaten the perception of our brands. We cannot assure you that we will be able to defuse negative press coverage about our company to the satisfaction of our investors, users, customers and platform partners. If we are unable to defuse negative press coverage about our company, our brand may suffer in the marketplace, our operational and financial performance may be negatively impacted and the price of our ADSs may decline.
User misconduct and inappropriate content may adversely impact our brand image, business and results of operations, and we may be held liable for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our app or website or distributed to our users.
Our platform enables users to discover, create, and distribute content and interact with others on our platform in real time. As it is difficult to control user behavior in real time, our platform may be misused by individuals or groups of individuals who engage in, among other things, immoral, inappropriate, disrespectful, fraudulent or illegal activities. While we have developed technologies and a series of measures to detect inappropriate content and activities, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to fully prevent inappropriate content from being posted on our platform or inappropriate activities from being carried out on our platform. Moreover, as we have limited control over the offline behavior of our users, to the extent that such behavior is associated with our platform, our ability to protect our brand image and reputation may be limited. Our business and the public perception of our brand may be materially and adversely affected by misconduct conducted on or linked to our platform. It is possible that our users may engage in conversations or activities on our platform that may be deemed illegal under applicable laws and regulations. We may be subject to fines or other disciplinary actions, including suspension of certain services, if we are deemed to not have taken actions to stop user misconduct or the display of inappropriate or illegal content posted by third parties on our platform or distributed to our users. If any of our users suffers or alleges to have suffered physical, financial or emotional harm arising from any contact initiated on our platform, we may face civil lawsuits or other proceedings initiated by the affected user, or governmental or regulatory actions. Defending such actions could be costly and involve significant time and attention of our management and other resources, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects. There can be no assurance that we can detect all illegal or inappropriate content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform. If we are held liable for any of the aforementioned incidents in the future, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
If our goodwill or intangible assets become impaired, we may be required to record a significant charge to earnings.
We review our intangible assets for impairment when events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying value may not be recoverable, such as a decline in stock price and market capitalization. We test goodwill for impairment at least once a year. If such goodwill or intangible assets are deemed to be impaired, an impairment loss equal to the amount by which the carrying amount exceeds the fair value of the assets would be recognized. We may be required to record a significant charge in our financial statements during the period in which any impairment of goodwill or intangible assets is determined, which would negatively affect our results of operations.
As of December 31, 2020, the total amount of our goodwill and intangible assets was $208.7 million. A substantial portion of the goodwill and intangible assets arose from the acquisitions of the live streaming business of www.yizhibo.com, or Yizhibo, a live streaming platform in China, in 2018 from Yixia Tech Co., Ltd, or Yixia Tech, and Shanghai Jiamian Information Technology Co., Ltd., or JM Tech, in 2020. Therefore, we may have to reassess and even record impairment loss if the respective industry prospects deteriorate.
The monetization of our services may require users to accept promoted marketing in their feeds or private messages, which may affect user experience and cause a decline in user traffic and a delay in our monetization.
Weibo users typically can log in to their personal accounts to view feeds and private messages from accounts that they have selected to follow. Social platform has been subject to negative comments, and even lawsuits, for introducing promoted advertising into their users’ information feeds. We started to test promoted products on Weibo at the end of 2012 and have also received user complaints. If we are unable to address user complaints adequately, user experience may be negatively affected, the monetization of our products and services may be delayed and our user base or user engagement may decline, which may adversely impact our operations.
New technologies could block our advertisements. Users of PC and mobile devices may enable technical measures that could hinder our traffic growth and limit our monetization opportunities.
Technologies have been developed that can disable the display of our advertisements and that provide tools to users to opt out of our advertising products. Most of our revenues are derived from fees paid to us by customers in connection with the display of advertisements to our users. In addition, our traffic growth is significantly dependent on content viewed via mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Technologies and tools for personal computers and mobile devices, such as operating systems, internet browsers, anti-virus software and other applications, as well as mobile application stores could set up technical measures to divert user traffic, require a fee for the download of our products or block our products and services altogether, which could adversely affect our overall traffic and ability to monetize our products and services.
Our business and growth could suffer if we are unable to hire and retain key personnel.
We depend on the continued contributions of our senior management and other key employees, many of whom are difficult to replace. The loss of the services of any of our executive officers or other key employees could harm our business. Competition for qualified talent in China is intense. Our future success is dependent on our ability to attract a significant number of qualified employees and retain existing key employees. If we are unable to do so, our business and growth may be materially and adversely affected and the trading price of our ADSs could suffer. Our need to significantly increase the number of our qualified employees and retain key employees may cause us to materially increase compensation-related costs, including stock-based compensation.
We have incurred and expect to continue to incur substantial stock-based compensation expenses.
We have adopted share incentive plans in August 2010 and March 2014. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees—B. Compensation—Share Incentive Plans” for a detailed discussion. For the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, we recorded $41.0 million, $61.3 million and $67.1 million, respectively, in stock-based compensation expenses. We will continue to grant stock-based compensation in the future in order to attract and retain key personnel and employees. Consequently, our stock-based compensation expenses may be recurring and even significantly increase in absolute amount, which may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Future investments in and acquisitions of complementary assets, technologies and businesses may fail and may result in equity or earnings dilution.
We have in the past and may continue to invest in or acquire assets, technologies and businesses that are complementary to our existing business. For example, in October 2018, we acquired a live streaming business of Yizhibo, a live streaming platform in China. In the fourth quarter of 2020, we acquired the majority equity shares of JM Tech, a company operating several online interactive entertainment apps in China, including “Pocket Werewolves.” Our investments or acquisitions may not yield the results we expect. In addition, investments and acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, potentially dilutive issuances of equity securities, significant amortization expenses related to intangible assets and exposure to potential unknown liabilities of the acquired business. Moreover, the cost of identifying and consummating investments and acquisitions, and integrating the acquired businesses into ours, may be significant, and the integration of acquired businesses may be disruptive to our existing business operations. In addition, we may have to obtain approval from the relevant PRC governmental authorities for the investments and acquisitions and comply with any applicable PRC rules and regulations, which may be costly. Our investments and acquisitions may also be subject to merger control review and antitrust investigations under the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law, the Interim Provisions on the Review of Concentrations of Undertakings and other PRC anti-monopoly laws, regulations and guidance. In the event that our investments and acquisitions are not successful, our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our financial results could be adversely affected by our long-term investments.
We periodically review our investments in publicly traded companies, privately held companies, and limited partnerships for impairment. If we conclude that any of these investments is impaired, we will write down the asset to its fair value and take a corresponding charge to our consolidated statements of comprehensive income. For the fiscal years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, we recognized impairment charge of $23.6 million, $230.9 million and $126.8 million, respectively, on the carrying value of our investments. We may continue to incur impairment charges in the future, which could depress our profitability or subject us to incur a net loss.
As of December 31, 2020, our investments included $890.2 million in private companies, which may not have the resources nor level of controls in place like public companies to timely and accurately provide updates about their company to us. Furthermore, many of our investments are at an early, pre-revenue stage of development, and their impairment may be difficult to assess as market information on internet-related startups is not readily available. After our adoption of ASU 2016-01 “Classification and Measurement of Financial Instruments” starting January 1, 2018, we measure long-term investments other than equity method investments at fair value through earnings. Our investments other than equity method are subject to a wide variety of market related risks that could substantially reduce or increase the fair value of our holdings. For example, identification of observable price change in orderly transaction for those investments without readily determinable fair value may result in our recognition of gain or loss on such investments.
Determination of estimated fair value of these investments require complex and subjective judgments due to their limited financial and operating history, unique business risks and limited public information. Consequently, we may not receive information about our investments on a timely basis to properly account for them. We recognized a net gain of $35.1 million in 2020 as a result of fair value changes. We are unable to control these factors and an impairment charge recognized by us, especially untimely recorded, may adversely impact our financial results and share price.
If we cannot obtain sufficient cash when we need it, we may not be able to meet our payment obligations under our notes.
In October 2017, we issued $900 million principal amount of convertible senior notes due 2022, which we refer to as 2022 Notes in this annual report. The 2022 Notes bear an annual interest rate of 1.25%, payable semiannually in arrears on May 15 and November 15 of each year, beginning on May 15, 2018, and will mature on November 15, 2022. In July 2019, we issued US$800 million in aggregate principal amount of senior notes due 2024, which we refer to as 2024 Notes in this annual report. The 2024 Notes were issued at par value and bear an annual interest rate of 3.50%, payable semiannually in arrears on January 5 and July 5 of each year, beginning on January 5, 2020. The 2024 Notes will mature on July 5, 2024, unless previously repurchased or redeemed in accordance with their terms prior to maturity. In July 2020, we issued $750 million in aggregate principal amount of senior notes due 2030, which we refer to as 2030 Notes in this annual report. The 2030 Notes bear an annual interest rate of 3.375%, payable semiannually in arrears on January 8 and July 8 of each year, beginning on January 8, 2021. The 2030 Notes will mature on July 8, 2030, unless previously repurchased or redeemed in accordance with their terms prior to maturity. We may not have sufficient funds to pay the interest or fulfill other obligations under these notes.
We derive most of our revenues from, and hold most of our assets through, our subsidiaries. As a result, we may rely in part upon distributions and advances from our subsidiaries in order to help us meet our payment obligations under the notes and our other obligations. Our subsidiaries are distinct legal entities and do not have any obligation, legal or otherwise, to provide us with distributions or advances. We may face tax or other adverse consequences, or legal limitations, on our ability to obtain funds from these entities. In addition, our ability to obtain external financing in the future is subject to a variety of uncertainties, including:
|●||our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows;|
|●||general market conditions for financing activities by internet companies; and|
|●||economic, political and other conditions in the PRC and elsewhere.|
If we are unable to obtain funding in a timely manner or on commercially acceptable terms, we may not be able to meet our payment obligations under our convertible notes. If we fail to pay interest on the notes, we will be in default under the indenture governing the notes, which in turn may constitute a default under existing and future agreements governing our indebtedness.
We may need additional capital, and financing may not be available on terms acceptable to us, or at all.
We may require additional cash resources if we experience changes in business conditions or other developments. In addition to the 2022 Notes, 2024 Notes and 2030 Notes, we may seek to issue equity or equity linked securities or obtain debt financing. The issuance and sale of additional equity would result in further dilution to our shareholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in increased fixed obligations and could result in operating covenants that would restrict our operations. We cannot assure you that financing will be available in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all.
Many of our products and services contain open source software, and we license some of our software through open source projects, which may pose particular risks to our proprietary software, products, and services in a manner that could have a negative effect on our business.
We use open source software in our products and services and will use open source software in the future. In addition, from time to time, we contribute software source code to open source projects under open source licenses or release internal software projects under open source licenses, and anticipate doing so in the future. The terms of many open source licenses to which we are subject have not been interpreted by domestic or foreign courts, and there is a risk that open source software licenses could be construed in a manner that imposes unanticipated conditions or restrictions on our ability to provide or distribute our products or services. Additionally, we may from time to time face claims from third parties claiming ownership of, or demanding release of, the open source software or derivative works that we developed using such software, which could include our proprietary source code, or otherwise seeking to enforce the terms of the applicable open source license. These claims could result in litigation and could require us to make our software source code freely available, purchase a costly license or cease offering the implicated products or services unless and until we can re-engineer them to avoid infringement. This re-engineering process could require significant additional research and development resources, and we may not be able to complete it successfully. In addition to risks related to license requirements, use of certain open source software can lead to greater risks than use of third-party commercial software, as open source licensors generally do not provide warranties or controls on the origin of software. Additionally, because any software source code we contribute to open source projects is publicly available, our ability to protect our intellectual property rights with respect to such software source code may be limited or lost entirely, and we are unable to prevent our competitors or others from using such contributed software source code. Any of these risks could be difficult to eliminate or manage, and, if not addressed, could have a negative effect on our business, financial condition and operating results.
We may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property, which could cause us to be less competitive.
We rely on a combination of patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret laws and restrictions on disclosure to protect our intellectual property rights. Despite our efforts to protect our proprietary rights, third parties may attempt to copy or otherwise obtain and use our intellectual property, seek court declarations that they do not infringe upon our intellectual property rights, or allege that certain of our products and services, or user content, infringe their intellectual property rights. Monitoring unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly, and we cannot be certain that the steps we have taken will prevent misappropriation of our intellectual property. From time to time, we may have to resort to litigation to enforce or defend our intellectual property rights, which could result in substantial costs and diversion of our resources. For example, the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board, or TRAB, issued decisions in June and July, 2017 to cancel the two trademarks owned by Weibo Interactive due to the lack of the proof of use. We have appealed TRAB’s decisions through the Beijing Intellectual Property Court. On December 25, 2017, Beijing Intellectual Property Court made two first instance judgments, each lifting TRAB’s decision and instructing TRAB to issue new decisions on the application for review regarding the two trademarks. On May 8, 2018, TRAB issued that the trademarks are valid for all registered items including computer programs and computer game software.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform, or distributed to our users, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
Companies in the internet, technology and media industries are frequently involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement of intellectual property rights, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation, and other violations of other parties’ rights. In addition, various "non-practicing entities" that own patents and other intellectual property rights often attempt to aggressively assert their rights in order to extract value from technology companies. The validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property rights in internet-related industries, particularly in China, are uncertain and still evolving. As we face increasing competition and as litigation becomes more common in China in resolving commercial disputes, we face a higher risk of being the subject of intellectual property infringement claims. Furthermore, from time to time we may introduce or acquire new products or services, including in areas where we historically have not competed, which could increase our exposure to patent and other intellectual property claims from competitors and non-practicing entities.
We allow users to upload written materials, images, pictures and other content on our platform and download, share, link to and otherwise access games and applications (some of which are developed by third parties) as well as audio, video and other content either on our platform or from other websites through our platform. We have procedures designed to reduce the likelihood that content might be used without proper licenses or third-party consents. However, these procedures may not be effective in preventing the unauthorized posting of copyrighted content.
With respect to games and applications available on our platform, we have procedures designed to reduce the likelihood of infringement. However, such procedures might not be effective in preventing games and applications, particularly those developed by third parties, from infringing upon other parties’ rights. We may face liability for copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, unfair competition, libel, negligence, and other claims based on the nature and content of the materials that are delivered, shared or otherwise accessed through our platform.
We may receive notice from patent holders and other parties alleging that certain of our products and services, or user content, infringe their intellectual property rights. Defending intellectual property litigation is costly and can impose a significant burden on our management and employees, and there can be no assurances that favorable final outcomes will be obtained in all cases. Such claims, even if they do not result in liability, may harm our reputation. Any resulting liability or expenses, or changes required to our platform to reduce the risk of future liability, may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and prospects.
User growth and engagement depend upon effective interoperation with operating systems, networks, devices, web browsers and standards that we do not control.
We make our products and services available across a variety of operating systems and through websites. We are dependent on the interoperability of our products and services with popular devices, desktop and mobile operating systems and web browsers that we do not control, such as Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and others. Any changes in such systems, devices or web browsers that degrade the functionality of our products and services or give preferential treatment to competitive products or services could adversely affect usage of our products and services. Further, if the number of platforms for which we develop our products increases, it will result in an increase in our costs and expenses. In order to deliver high quality products and services, it is important that our products and services work well with a range of operating systems, networks, devices, web browsers and standards that we do not control. In addition, because a majority of our users access our products and services through mobile devices, we are particularly dependent on the interoperability of our products and services with mobile devices and operating systems. We may not be successful in developing relationships with key participants in the mobile industry or in developing products or services that operate effectively with these operating systems, networks, devices, web browsers and standards. In the event that it is difficult for our users to access and use our products and services, particularly on their mobile devices, our user growth and user engagement could be harmed, and our business and operating results could be adversely affected.
Our operations depend on the performance of the internet infrastructure and fixed telecommunications networks in China.
Almost all access to the internet in China is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT. Moreover, we primarily rely on a limited number of telecommunication service providers to provide us with data communications capacity through local telecommunications lines and internet data centers to host our servers. We have limited access to alternative networks or services in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with China’s internet infrastructure or the fixed telecommunications networks provided by telecommunication service providers. Web traffic in China has experienced significant growth during the past few years. Effective bandwidth and server storage at internet data centers in large cities such as Beijing are scarce. With the expansion of our business, we may be required to upgrade our technology and infrastructure to keep up with the increasing traffic on our platform. We cannot assure you that the internet infrastructure and the fixed telecommunications networks in China will be able to support the demands associated with the continued growth in internet usage. If we are unable to increase our online content and service delivering capacity accordingly, we may not be able to continuously grow our traffic, and the adoption of our products and services may be hindered, which could adversely impact our business and our share price.
In addition, we have no control over the costs of the services provided by telecommunication service providers. If the prices we pay for telecommunications and internet services rise significantly, our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, if internet access fees or other charges to internet users increase, particularly as content shifts toward video, some users may be prevented from accessing the internet and thus cause the growth of internet users to decelerate. Such deceleration may adversely affect our ability to continue to expand our user base and increase our attractiveness to online customers.
Our business and operating results may be harmed by service disruptions, or by our failure to timely and effectively scale and adapt our existing technology and infrastructure.
One of the reasons people come to Weibo is for real-time information. We have experienced, and may in the future experience, service disruptions, outages and other performance problems due to a variety of factors, including infrastructure changes, human or software errors, hardware failure, capacity constraints due to an overwhelming number of people accessing our products and services simultaneously, computer viruses and denial of service, fraud and security attacks. Any disruption or failure in our infrastructure could hinder our ability to handle existing or increased traffic on our platform or cause us to lose content stored on our platform, which could significantly harm our business and our ability to retain existing users and attract new users.
As the number of our users increases and our users generate more content, including photos and videos on our platform, we may be required to expand and adapt our technology and infrastructure to continue to reliably store and analyze this content. It may become increasingly difficult to maintain and improve the performance of our products and services, especially during peak usage times, as our products and services become more complex and our user traffic increases. In addition, because we lease our data center facilities, we cannot be assured that we will be able to expand our data center infrastructure to meet user demand in a timely manner, or on favorable economic terms, or at all. We rely on SINA, our controlling shareholder, and third-party vendors to provide infrastructure services. We cannot assure you that their infrastructure will operate without interruptions and that we can maintain a relationship with these parties on favorable economic terms. If our users are unable to access Weibo or we are not able to make information available rapidly on Weibo, or at all, users may become frustrated and seek other channels to obtain the information, and may not return to Weibo or use Weibo as often in the future, or at all. This would negatively impact our ability to attract users and customers and maintain the level of engagement of our users.
We prioritize product innovation and user experience over short-term operating results, which may harm our revenues and operating results.
We encourage employees to quickly develop and help us launch new and innovative features. We focus on improving the user experience for our products and services and on developing new and improved products and services for the customers on our platform. We prioritize innovation and the experience for users and customers on Weibo over short-term operating results. We frequently make product and service decisions that may reduce our short-term operating results if we believe that the decisions are consistent with our goals to improve the user experience and performance for customers, which we believe will improve our operating results over the long term. These decisions may not be consistent with the short-term expectations of investors and may not produce the long-term benefits that we expect, in which case our user growth and user engagement, our relationships with customers and our business and operating results could be adversely and materially harmed. In addition, our focus on the user experience may negatively impact our relationships with our existing or prospective customers. This could result in a loss of customers and platform partners, which could adversely and materially harm our revenues and operating results.
We may face lawsuits or incur liability as a result of content published, made available through, or linked to our social media platform.
As a social media platform, we have faced and will continue to face liability relating to content that is published, made available through, or linked to our platform. In particular, the nature of our business exposes us to claims related to defamation, intellectual property rights, rights of publicity and privacy, illegal content, content regulation and personal injury torts. The law relating to the liability of providers of online products or services for activities of their users remains somewhat unsettled in China. In addition, the public nature of communications on our platform exposes us to risks arising from the creation of impersonation accounts intended to be attributed to our users or customers. We could incur significant costs investigating and defending these claims. If we incur costs or liability as a result of these events, our business, financial condition and operating results could be adversely affected.
We may be subject to litigation for user-generated content provided on our platform, which may be time-consuming and costly to defend.
Our platform is open to the public for posting user-generated content. Although we have required our users to post only legally compliant and inoffensive materials and have set up screening procedures, our screening procedures may fail to screen out all potentially offensive or non-compliant user-generated content. Even if properly screened, a third party may still find user-generated content postings on our platform offensive and take actions against us in connection with the posting of such information. As with other companies who provide user-generated content on their websites, we have had to deal with such claims in the past and anticipate that such claims will increase as user-generated content becomes more popular in China. Any such claim, with or without merit, could be time-consuming and costly to defend, and may result in litigation and divert management’s attention and resources.
We may face certain risks related to financial products available on our Weibo wallet.
Weibo wallet enables users to purchase different types of financial products and services, including micro-loan facilitation offered by our related party, insurance, funds and other financial services offered by Weibo's business partners who are third-parties with relevant licenses. The Chinese laws and regulations on internet finance have been developing rapidly in recent years. For example, on April 3, 2018, the Internet Financing Risks Special Rectification Work Leading Group under the State Council issued a Notice on Strengthening the Rectification and Inspection of Asset Management Operations via the Internet, which requires any entity that issues or sells fund and asset management products via the internet to obtain an asset management business license or asset management product sales license issued by the central financial management department. On November 2, 2020, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and People's Bank of China jointly issued draft Interim Administrative Measures for the Online Micro-loan Business, which provides that without the approval from the banking regulator under the State Council, no micro-loan company is allowed to operate online micro-loan business in provincial-level administrative regions, and any online platform used by a micro-loan company that engages in the online micro-loan business must meet several conditions, including, among others, the online platform operator must hold not less than 5% of the micro-loan company’s shares. It is unclear if the draft Interim Administrative Measures for the Online Micro-loan Business would be enacted. Compliance with new rules and regulations may require us to obtain new license and permits and may cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business. On January 13, 2021, the General Office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and the General Office of the People's Bank of China jointly issued a Circular on Regulating the Personal Deposit Business Conducted by Commercial Banks through the Internet, pursuant to which commercial banks are not allowed to engage in the business of providing fixed deposits or time-demand optional deposits through non-self-operated online platforms. On February 19, 2021, the General Office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission issued a Circular on Further Regulating the Internet Loan Business of Commercial Banks, pursuant to which local banks engaged in online loan business shall serve local customers and are not allowed to operate online loan business outside of their registered local administrative areas, subject to certain exemptions.
To comply with these laws and regulations on internet finance service, we have made relevant adjustments to the services available through Weibo wallet from time to time over the past several years. If any of the financial products or services available on Weibo wallet are found to be in violation of relevant regulations, Weibo may face warnings, fines, confiscation of illegal gains, license revocations or the discontinuation of the relevant business, and our business, financial condition and operating results could be adversely affected.
We are subject to changing laws and regulations regarding regulatory matters, corporate governance and public disclosure that have increased both our costs and the risk of non-compliance.
We are subject to rules and regulations by various governing bodies, including, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with the protection of investors and the oversight of companies whose securities are publicly traded, and the various regulatory authorities in China and the Cayman Islands, and to new and evolving regulatory measures under applicable law. Our efforts to comply with new and changing laws and regulations have resulted in and are likely to continue to result in, increased general and administrative expenses and a diversion of management time and attention from revenue-generating activities to compliance activities.
Moreover, because these laws, regulations and standards are subject to varying interpretations, their application in practice may evolve over time as new guidance becomes available. This evolution may result in continuing uncertainty regarding compliance matters and additional costs necessitated by ongoing revisions to our disclosure and governance practices. If we fail to address and comply with these regulations and any subsequent changes, we may be subject to penalty and our business may be harmed.
We have limited business insurance coverage.
The insurance industry in China is still young and the business insurance products offered in China are limited. We have limited business liability or disruption insurance coverage for our operations. Any business disruption, litigation or natural disaster may cause us to incur substantial costs and divert our resources.
We face risks related to health epidemics and other outbreaks, such as the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as natural disasters, which could significantly disrupt our operations and adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operation.
In addition to the impact of COVID-19, our business could be adversely affected by the effects of Ebola virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, or other epidemics. Our business operations could be disrupted if any of our employees is suspected of having Ebola virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, SARS, COVID-19 or other epidemics, since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be disinfected. In addition, our results of operations and financial performance could be adversely affected to the extent that any of these epidemics harms the Chinese economy in general.
In early 2020, to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government had taken certain emergency measures, including extension of the Lunar New Year holidays, implementation of travel bans, blockade of certain roads and closure of factories and businesses. These emergency measures have been significantly relaxed by the Chinese government as of the date of this document. However, there has been occasional outbreaks of COVID-19 in various cities in China, and the Chinese government may again take measures to keep COVID-19 in check. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused material negative impact to our total revenues, slower collection of accounts receivables and additional allowance for credit losses in the year of 2020, particularly in its first half. Although our advertising business has gradually recovered, if the impact of COVID-19 is prolonged or worsens further, it may still disrupt our business, which may in turn adversely affect our revenue and financial conditions. Our headquarter is located in Beijing and we currently lease the majority of our offices in various parts of China to support our operations. This outbreak of communicable diseases has caused, and may cause again in the future, companies, including us and certain of our business partners, to implement temporary adjustment of work schemes allowing employees to work from home and adopt remote collaboration. We have taken measures to reduce the impact of this epidemic outbreak, including, upgrading our telecommuting system, monitoring our employees’ health on a daily basis, arranging shifts of our employees working onsite and from home to avoid infection transmission and optimizing our technology system to support potential growth in user traffic. The extent to which COVID-19 impacts our financial position, results of operations and cash flows in 2021 will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including new information which may emerge concerning the severity of COVID-19, the actions to contain the coronavirus or treat its impact, the availability of vaccine and treatment for COVID-19, among others.
We are also vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. Fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins, war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide products and services on our platform.
Divestitures of businesses and assets may have a material and adverse effect on our business and financial condition.
We may undertake in the future, partial or complete divestitures or other disposal transactions in connection with certain of our businesses and assets, particularly ones that are not closely related to our core focus areas or might require excessive resources or financial capital, to help our company meet its objectives. These decisions are largely based on our management’s assessment of the business models and likelihood of success of these businesses. However, our judgment could be inaccurate, and we may not achieve the desired strategic and financial benefits from these transactions. Our financial results could be adversely affected by the impact from the loss of earnings and corporate overhead contribution/allocation associated with divested businesses.
Dispositions may also involve continued financial involvement in the divested business, such as through guarantees, indemnities or other financial obligations. Under these arrangements, performance by the divested businesses or other conditions outside of our control could affect our future financial results. We may also be exposed to negative publicity as a result of the potential misconception that the divested business is still part of our consolidated group. On the other hand, we cannot assure you that the divesting business would not pursue opportunities to provide services to our competitors or other opportunities that would conflict with our interests. If any conflicts of interest that may arise between the divesting business and us cannot be resolved in our favor, our business, financial condition, results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, reducing or eliminating our ownership interests in these businesses might negatively affect our operations, prospects, or long-term value. We may lose access to resources or know-how that would have been useful in the development of our own business. Our ability to diversify or expand our existing businesses or to move into new areas of business may be reduced, and we may have to modify our business strategy to focus more exclusively on areas of business where we already possess the necessary expertise. We may sell our interests too early, and thus forego gains that we otherwise would have received had we not sold. Selecting businesses to dispose of or spin off, finding buyers for them (or the equity interests in them to be sold) and negotiating prices for what may be relatively illiquid ownership interests with no easily ascertainable fair market value will also require significant attention from our management and may divert resources from our existing business, which in turn could have an adverse effect on our business operations.
Risks Relating to Our Carve-out from SINA and Our Relationship with SINA
We rely on SINA for a broad range of support and there can be no assurance that SINA will continue to provide the same level of support.
On March 22, 2021, New Wave Mergersub Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Sina Group Holding Company Limited, formerly known as New Wave Holdings Limited) merged with and into SINA, with SINA continuing as the surviving company. As a result of this merger, SINA became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sina Group Holding Company Limited, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of New Wave MMXV Limited, a business company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and controlled by Mr. Charles Chao. Following the completion of the merger, SINA has ceased to be a reporting company under the Exchange Act and its shares have ceased trading on NASDAQ.
Prior to our initial public offering in April 2014, SINA provided us with financial, administrative, sales and marketing, human resources and legal services and the services of a number of its executives and employees. After we became a stand-alone public company, SINA has continued to provide us with certain support services. To the extent that SINA does not continue to provide us with such support, we will need to create our own support systems. We may encounter operational, administrative and strategic difficulties if we are to adjust to providing these support services on our own, which may cause us to react slower than our competitors to industry changes, may divert our management’s attention from running our business or may otherwise harm our operations.
Our financial information included in this annual report may not be representative of our financial condition and results of operations if we had been operating as a stand-alone company for all periods presented.
Prior to the establishment of Weibo Corporation in 2010, the operations of our social media business were carried out by companies owned or controlled by SINA. For all periods presented, our consolidated financial statements include all assets, liabilities, revenues, expenses and cash flows that are directly attributable to our social media business whether held or incurred by SINA or by us. Only those assets and liabilities that are specifically identifiable to our business are included in our consolidated balance sheets. With respect to costs of operations of the social media business, an allocation of certain costs and expenses of SINA were also included. These allocations were made using a proportional cost allocation method by considering the proportion of revenues, infrastructure usage metrics, and labor usage metrics among other things attributable to us. We made numerous estimates, assumptions and allocations in our historical financial statements because SINA did not account for us, and we did not operate as a stand-alone company for any period prior to our initial public offering. See “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—B. Related Party Transactions—Our Relationship with SINA” for our arrangements with SINA and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” and the notes to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report for our historical cost allocation. Although our management believes that the assumptions underlying our financial statements and the above allocations are reasonable, our financial statements may not necessarily reflect our results of operations, financial position and cash flows as if we had operated as a stand-alone public company during the periods presented. Therefore, you should not view our historical results as indicators of our future performance.
We may not continue to receive the same level of support from SINA.
SINA is a leading internet media company in China, and our social media business has benefited significantly from SINA’s strong market position in China and its expertise in both internet and media-related businesses. For example, our advertising and marketing revenues have benefited from SINA’s ability to attract large brand advertisers that are interested in advertising on the internet. Although we have entered into a series of agreements with SINA relating to our ongoing business partnership and service arrangements with SINA, we cannot assure you we will continue to receive the same level of support from SINA as we now operate as a stand-alone public company.
Our agreements with SINA may be less favorable to us than similar agreements negotiated between unaffiliated parties. In particular, our non-competition agreement with SINA limits the scope of business that we are allowed to conduct.
We have entered into a series of agreements with SINA and the terms of such agreements may be less favorable to us than would be the case if they were negotiated with unaffiliated third parties. In particular, under the non-competition agreement we have entered into with SINA, we agreed not to, during the non-competition period (which will end on the later of (1) five years after the first date when SINA ceases to own in aggregate at least 20% of the voting power of our then outstanding securities and (2) the fifteenth anniversary of the completion of our initial public offering in 2014), compete with SINA in the business currently conducted by SINA, as described in its periodic filings with the SEC, other than the microblogging and social networking business currently operated by us and any business developed by us operating under either the domain names or the brands owned by us as of the date of the agreement. Such contractual limitations significantly affect our ability to diversify our revenue sources and may materially and adversely impact our business and prospects should the growth of social media in China slow down. In addition, pursuant to our master transaction agreement with SINA, we have agreed to indemnify SINA for liabilities arising from litigation and other contingencies related to our business and assumed these liabilities as part of our carve-out from SINA. The allocation of assets and liabilities between SINA and our company may not reflect the allocation that would have been reached by two unaffiliated parties. Moreover, so long as SINA continues to control us, we may not be able to bring a legal claim against SINA in the event of contractual breach, notwithstanding our contractual rights under the agreements described above and other inter-company agreements entered into from time to time.
Our sales, marketing and brand promotion have benefited significantly from our association with SINA. Any negative development in SINA’s market position or brand recognition may materially and adversely affect our marketing efforts and the strength of our brand.
As a controlled subsidiary of SINA, we have benefited significantly from our association with SINA in marketing our brand and our platform. For example, we have benefited by providing services to SINA’s clients. We also benefit from SINA’s strong brand recognition in China, which has provided us credibility and a broad marketing reach. If SINA loses its market position, the effectiveness of our marketing efforts through our association with SINA may be materially and adversely affected. In addition, any negative publicity associated with SINA will likely have an adverse impact on the effectiveness of our marketing as well as our reputation and our brand.
SINA will control the outcome of shareholder actions in our company.
SINA held 44.7% of our total issued and outstanding ordinary shares, representing 70.8% of our total voting power as of February 28, 2021. SINA has advised us that it does not anticipate disposing of its voting control in us in the near future. SINA’s voting power gives it the power to control actions that require shareholder approval under Cayman Islands law, our memorandum and articles of association and Nasdaq requirements, including the election and removal of a majority of our board of directors, approval of significant mergers and acquisitions and other business combinations, changes to our memorandum and articles of association, the number of shares available for issuance under share incentive plans, and the issuance of significant amounts of our ordinary shares in private placements.
SINA’s voting control may cause transactions to occur that might not be beneficial to holders of ADSs and may prevent transactions that would be beneficial to you. For example, SINA’s voting control may prevent a transaction involving a change of control of us, including transactions in which you as a holder of our ADSs might otherwise receive a premium for your securities over the then-current market price. In addition, SINA is not prohibited from selling a controlling interest in us to a third party and may do so without the approval of the ADS holders and without providing for a purchase of the ADSs held by the ADS holders. If SINA is acquired or otherwise undergoes a change of control, any acquirer or successor will be entitled to exercise the voting control and contractual rights of SINA, and may do so in a manner that could vary significantly from that of SINA.
We are a “controlled company” within the meaning of the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules and, as a result, may rely on exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that provide protection to shareholders of other companies.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules because SINA holds more than 50% of our voting power. For so long as we remain a controlled company under that definition, we are permitted to elect to rely, and will rely, on certain exemptions from corporate governance rules, including:
|●||an exemption from the rule that our director nominees must be selected or recommended solely by independent directors; and|
|●||an exemption from having a corporate governance and nominating committee that is composed entirely of independent directors with a written charter addressing the committee’s purpose and responsibilities.|
As a result, the ADS holders do not have the same protection afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements.
We may have conflicts of interest with SINA and, because of SINA’s controlling ownership interest in our company, we may not be able to resolve such conflicts on favorable terms for us.
Conflicts of interest may arise between SINA and us in a number of areas relating to our past and ongoing relationships. Potential conflicts of interest that we have identified include the following:
|●||Indemnification arrangements with SINA. We have agreed to indemnify SINA with respect to lawsuits and other matters relating to our social media business, including operations of that business when it was a private company and a subsidiary of SINA. These indemnification arrangements could result in our having interests that are adverse to those of SINA, for example, with respect to settlement arrangements in litigation. In addition, under these arrangements, we have agreed to reimburse SINA for liabilities incurred (including legal defense costs) in connection with any litigation, while SINA will be the party prosecuting or defending the litigation.|
|●||Non-competition arrangements with SINA. We and SINA have entered into a non-competition agreement under which we agree not to compete with each other’s core business. SINA agrees not to compete with us in a business that is of the same nature as the microblogging and social networking business operated by us as of the date of the agreement. We agree not to compete with SINA in the business currently conducted by SINA, as described in its periodic filings with the SEC, other than the microblogging and social networking business operated by us as of the date of the agreement.|
|●||Employee recruiting and retention. Because both SINA and we are engaged internet-related businesses in China, we may compete with SINA in the hiring of new employees, in particular with respect to media and advertising-related matters. We have a non-solicitation arrangement with SINA that restricts us and SINA from hiring any of each other’s employees.|
|●||Our board members or executive officers may have conflicts of interest. Two directors of our company are also executive officers of SINA. In addition, we may continue to grant incentive share compensation to SINA’s employees and consultants from time to time. These relationships could create, or appear to create, conflicts of interest when these persons are faced with decisions with potentially different implications for SINA and us.|
|●||Sale of shares in our company. SINA may decide to sell all or a portion of our shares that it holds to a third party, including to one of our competitors, thereby giving that third party substantial influence over our business and our affairs. Such a sale could be contrary to the interests of our employees or our other shareholders.|
|●||Allocation of business opportunities. Business opportunities may arise that both we and SINA find attractive, and which would complement our respective businesses. SINA may decide to take the opportunities itself, which would prevent us from taking advantage of those opportunities.|
|●||Developing business relationships with SINA’s competitors. So long as SINA remains as our controlling shareholder, we may be limited in our ability to do business with its competitors, such as other online media companies in China. This may limit our ability to market our services for the best interests of our company and our other shareholders.|
Although our company has become a stand-alone public company, we expect to operate, for as long as SINA is our controlling shareholder, as an affiliate of SINA. SINA may from time to time make strategic decisions that it believes are in the best interests of its business as a whole, including our company. These decisions may be different from the decisions that we would have made on our own. SINA’s decisions with respect to us or our business may be resolved in ways that favor SINA and therefore SINA’s own shareholders, which may not coincide with the interests of our other shareholders. We may not be able to resolve any potential conflicts, and even if we do so, the resolution may be less favorable to us than if we were dealing with a non-controlling shareholder. Even if both parties seek to transact business on terms intended to approximate those that could have been achieved among unaffiliated parties, this may not succeed in practice.
Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure
Uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
The National People’s Congress approved the Foreign Investment Law on March 15, 2019 and the State Council approved the Regulation on Implementing the Foreign Investment Law (the “Implementation Regulations”) on December 12, 2019, effective from January 1, 2020, which replaced the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The Supreme People’s Court of China issued a judicial interpretation on the Foreign Investment Law on December 27, 2019, effective from January 1, 2020, to ensure fair and efficient implementation of the Foreign Investment Law. According to the judicial interpretation, courts in China shall not, among other things, support contracted parties to claim foreign investment contracts in sectors not on the Special Administrative Measures for Access of Foreign Investment (Negative List) as void because the contracts have not been approved or registered by administrative authorities. The Foreign Investment Law and Implementation Regulations embody an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments.
However, since these rules are relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to their interpretation. For instance, under the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refers to the investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by foreign individuals, enterprises or other entities in China. Though it does not explicitly classify contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment, there is no assurance that foreign investment via contractual arrangement would not be interpreted as a type of indirect foreign investment activities under the definition in the future. In addition, the definition contains a catch-all provision which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the Stale Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. In any of these cases, it will be uncertain whether our contractual arrangements will be deemed to be in violation of the market access requirements for foreign investment under the PRC laws and regulations, or whether they may be invalid in whole or in part. Furthermore, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
If the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating our businesses in China do not comply with PRC regulations on foreign investment in internet and other related businesses, or if these regulations or their interpretation change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
Current PRC laws and regulations impose certain restrictions or prohibitions on foreign ownership of companies that engage in internet and other related businesses, including the provision of internet content and online game operations. Specifically, foreign ownership of an internet content provider may not exceed 50%. We are a company registered in the Cayman Islands and Weibo Technology, our PRC subsidiary, is considered a foreign-invested enterprise. To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we conduct our business in China principally through Weimeng, and its subsidiaries based on a series of contractual arrangements by and among Weibo Technology, Weimeng and its shareholders. We also operate certain investments in China through Beijing Weimeng Chuangke Investment Management Co., Ltd., or Weimeng Chuangke, and its subsidiaries, based on a series of contractual arrangements by and among Weibo Technology, Weimeng Chuangke and its shareholders. As a result of these contractual arrangements, we exert control over Weimeng and Weimeng Chuangke and treat them as consolidated VIEs. Consequently, we consolidate their operating results in our financial statements under U.S. GAAP. Weimeng and Weimeng Chuangke hold the licenses, approvals and key assets that are essential for our business operations.
In the opinion of our PRC counsel, TransAsia Lawyers, our current ownership structure, the ownership structure of our PRC subsidiary and our VIEs, and the contractual arrangements among our PRC subsidiary, the VIEs and their respective shareholders are in compliance with existing PRC laws, rules and regulations. There are, however, substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current or future PRC laws and regulations. Thus, we cannot assure you that the PRC government will not ultimately take a view contrary to the opinion of our PRC counsel. If we are found in violation of any PRC laws or regulations, the relevant governmental authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violation, including, without limitation, levying fines, restricting our right to collect revenues, confiscating our income or the income of our VIEs, revoking our business licenses or the business licenses of our VIEs, requiring us to restructure our ownership structure or operations, and requiring us or our VIEs to discontinue any portion or all of our business. Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations and may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders for our operations in China, which may not be as effective in providing operational control as direct ownership.
Due to the PRC restrictions or prohibitions on foreign ownership of internet and other related businesses in China, we operate our business in China through our VIEs, in which we have no ownership interest. We rely on a series of contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to control and operate their business. These contractual arrangements are intended to provide us with effective control over these VIEs and allow us to obtain economic benefits from them. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure— Contractual Arrangements with Our Consolidated VIEs and Their Respective Individual Shareholders” for more details about these contractual arrangements.
Although we have been advised by our PRC counsel, TransAsia Lawyers, that these contractual arrangements are valid, binding and enforceable under existing PRC laws and regulations, these contractual arrangements may not be as effective in providing control over these VIEs as direct ownership. If any of these VIEs or their shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may incur substantial costs and expend substantial resources to enforce our rights. All of these contractual arrangements are governed by and interpreted in accordance with PRC law, and disputes arising from these contractual arrangements will be resolved through arbitration in China. However, the legal system in China, particularly as it relates to arbitration proceedings, is not as developed as in other jurisdictions, such as the United States. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to you and us.” There are very few precedents and little official guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a variable interest entity (“VIE”) should be interpreted or enforced under PRC law. There remain significant uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of arbitration should legal action become necessary. These uncertainties could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In addition, arbitration awards are final and can only be enforced in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which could cause additional expenses and delays. In the event we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements or we experience significant delays or other obstacles in enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our affiliated entities and may lose control over the assets owned by our VIEs and their subsidiaries. As a result, we may be unable to consolidate Weimeng or Weimeng Chuangke and their respective subsidiaries in our consolidated financial statements, our ability to conduct our business may be negatively affected, and our business operations could be severely disrupted, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
In April 2020, WangTouTongDa (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd., an entity affiliated with ZhongWangTou (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd, made an investment of approximately RMB10.7 million in Weimeng for 1% of Weimeng’s enlarged registered capital. Such third party minority stake holder is not a party to the contractual arrangements that are currently in effect among Weimeng, Weibo Technology and Weimeng’s other shareholders. As such, despite the fact that we are still able to enjoy economic benefits and exercise effective control over Weimeng and its subsidiaries, we are not able to purchase or have the third party minority stake holder pledge its 1% equity interests in Weimeng in the same manner as agreed under existing contractual arrangements, nor are we granted the authorization of voting rights over these 1% equity interests. However, we believe Weibo Technology, our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, still controls and is the primary beneficiary of Weimeng as it continues to have a controlling financial interest in Weimeng pursuant to ASC 810-10-25-38A after the issuance of such 1% equity interests.
Shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may affect the performance of the contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders, which may in turn materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
Other than the third-party minority stake holder that holds 1% of Weimeng’s equity interests, our VIEs’ shareholders (the “Individual Shareholders”) are PRC employees of our company or SINA. Although each of these Individual Shareholders has authorized Weibo Technology to exercise all of his/her voting powers in Weimeng or Weimeng Chuangke, and we may replace any of these Individual Shareholders at any time pursuant to the share transfer agreements, we cannot assure you that these Individual Shareholders will act in the best interest of our company should any conflict arise. If they were to act in bad faith towards us, we may have to take legal actions to enforce their contractual obligations, which may be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive to our operations. As there remain significant uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of a legal action due to the limited number of precedents and lack of official guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a variable interest entity should be interpreted or enforced under PRC law, we cannot assure you that conflicts will be resolved in our favor. If we are unable to resolve any such conflicts, or if we suffer significant delays or other obstacles as a result of such conflicts, our business and operations could be severely disrupted, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by any of our VIEs that are important to the operation of our business if such VIE declares bankruptcy or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our VIEs hold certain assets that are important to our business operations, including the Internet Content Provision License, the Online Culture Operating Permit and domain names held by Weimeng and our investments held by Weimeng Chuangke. Under our contractual arrangements with our VIEs, the Individual Shareholders may not voluntarily liquidate the VIE or approve the VIE to sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of its assets or legal or beneficial interests in the business in any manner without our prior consent. However, in the event that the Individual Shareholders breach this obligation and voluntarily liquidate any VIE, or any VIE declares bankruptcy, or all or part of its assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business operations, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Furthermore, if any of our VIEs or their subsidiaries undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, their shareholders or unrelated third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of their assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Contractual arrangements we have entered into with our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities. A finding that we owe additional taxes could substantially reduce our consolidated net income and the value of your investment.
Pursuant to applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. We may be subject to adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements among our PRC subsidiary, our VIEs and their Individual Shareholders are not on an arm’s length basis and therefore constitute favorable transfer pricing. As a result, the PRC tax authorities could require any of our VIEs to adjust its taxable income upward for PRC tax purposes. Such a pricing adjustment could adversely affect us by increasing such VIE’s tax expenses without reducing the tax expenses of our PRC subsidiary, subjecting such VIE to late payment fees and other penalties for under-payment of taxes, and resulting in our PRC subsidiary’s loss of its preferential tax treatment. Our results of operations may be adversely affected if any of our VIEs’ tax liabilities increase or if it is subject to late payment fees or other penalties.
If the chops of our PRC subsidiary, our VIEs and their respective subsidiaries are not kept safely, are stolen or are used by unauthorized persons or for unauthorized purposes, the corporate governance of these entities could be severely and adversely compromised.
In China, a company chop or seal serves as the legal representation of the company towards third parties even when unaccompanied by a signature. Each legally registered company in China is required to maintain a company chop, which must be registered with the local Public Security Bureau. In addition to this mandatory company chop, companies may have several other chops which can be used for specific purposes. The chops of our PRC subsidiary, our VIEs and their respective subsidiaries are generally held securely by personnel designated or approved by us in accordance with our internal control procedures. To the extent those chops are not kept safely, are stolen or are used by unauthorized persons or for unauthorized purposes, the corporate governance of these entities could be severely and adversely compromised and those corporate entities may be bound to abide by the terms of any documents so chopped, even if they were chopped by an individual who lacked the requisite power and authority to do so. In addition, if the holders of such chops at any of our VIEs failed to employ them in accordance with the terms of the various VIE-related agreements or removed them from the premises, the operation of such VIE could be significantly and adversely impacted.
Risks Relating to Doing Business in China
Regulation and censorship of information disseminated over the internet in China may adversely affect our business and subject us to liability for information displayed on Weibo or Yizhibo.
The PRC government has adopted regulations governing internet access and the distribution of information over the internet. Under these regulations, internet content providers and internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying the internet content that, among other things, impairs the national dignity of China, is reactionary, obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory, or otherwise violates PRC laws and regulations. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the revocation of licenses to provide internet content and other licenses and the closure of the concerned websites and levy of fines. The website operator may also be held liable for such censored information displayed on or linked to the website.
In addition, the MIIT has published regulations that subject website operators to potential liability for content displayed on their websites and for the actions of users and others using their systems, including liability for violations of PRC laws prohibiting the dissemination of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. The Ministry of Public Security has the authority to order any local internet service provider to block any internet website at its sole discretion. From time to time, the Ministry of Public Security stops the dissemination over the internet of information which it believes to be socially destabilizing. The State Administration for the Protection of State Secrets is also authorized to block any website it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to meet the relevant regulations relating to the protection of state secrets in the dissemination of online information. Cyberspace Administration of China, or the CAC, set up in May 2011 to supervise internet content management nationwide, has also promulgated regulations and taken a number of other measures to regulate and monitor online content.
We endeavor to eliminate illicit content from our platform, including through the use of our “Blue Plan” system on Weibo since July 2019. Although we attempt to monitor the content posted by users on Weibo and Yizhibo, we are not able to effectively control or restrict content generated or placed on Weibo or Yizhibo by our users. In particular, with various features such as posts, comments and chat groups and the growing popularity of multimedia content, such as photos, videos and live streaming, and long-form articles, content monitoring becomes much more complicated and challenging than text-based feeds.
To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content displayed on Weibo or Yizhibo objectionable, they may require us to limit, prevent, or eliminate the dissemination of such information on our platform. Failure to do so may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations. In the past, CAC imposed several penalties on us for the content transmitted on our platform, and we have cooperated with the relevant government authorities to take corrective measures in all cases. For example, in June 2020, CAC imposed a fine of RMB500,000 on us for failing to timely discover and remove user posts violating PRC laws and regulations from our platform, and required us to rectify and suspend the operation of Weibo hot search feature for one week. However, government standards and interpretations may change in a manner that could render our current monitoring efforts insufficient. The PRC government has wide discretion in regulating online activities and, irrespective of our efforts to control the content on our platform, government campaigns and other actions to reduce illicit content and activities could subject us to negative press or regulatory challenges and sanctions, including imposition of fines, suspension or revocation of our licenses to operate in China or a ban of our platform, including closure of one or more parts of or our entire business. If government actions or sanctions are brought against us, or if there are widespread rumors about any actual or potential government actions or sanctions against us, our reputation could be harmed, we may lose users and other customers, and our revenues and results of operation may be materially and adversely affected.
In addition, the Judicial Interpretation on the Application of Law in Trial of Online Defamation and Other Online Crimes jointly promulgated by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, which became effective on September 10, 2013, imposes up to a three-year prison sentence on internet users who fabricate or knowingly share defamatory false information online. The implementation of this judicial interpretation may have a significant and adverse effect on the traffic of our platform and discourage the creation of user-generated content, which in turn may impact the results of our operations and ultimately the trading price of our ADSs. Regulation and censorship of information disseminated over the internet in China may adversely affect our user experience and reduce users’ engagement and activities on our platform, as well as adversely affect our ability to attract new users to our platform. Any and all of these adverse impacts may ultimately materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of Cyber Security Law as well as any impact it may have on our business operations.
On July 1, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the National Security Law, which came into effect on the same day. The National Security Law provides that the state shall safeguard the sovereignty, security and cybersecurity development interests of the state, and that the state shall establish a national security review and supervision system to review, among other things, foreign investment, key technologies, internet and information technology products and services, and other important activities that are likely to impact the national security of China.
On November 7, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Cyber Security Law, which came into effect on June 1, 2017. This is the first Chinese law that focuses exclusively on cyber security. The Cyber Security Law provides that network operators must set up internal security management systems that meets the requirements of a classified protection system for cybersecurity, including appointing dedicated cybersecurity personnel, taking technical measures to prevent computer viruses, network attacks and intrusions, taking technical measures to monitor and record network operation status and cybersecurity incidents, and taking data security measures such as data classification, backups and encryption. The Cybersecurity Law also imposes a relatively vague but broad obligation to provide technical support and assistance to the public and state security authorities in connection with criminal investigations or for reasons of national security. The Cybersecurity Law also requires network operators that provide network access or domain name registration services, landline or mobile phone network access, or that provide users with information publication or instant messaging services, to require users to provide a real identity when they sign up.
The Cyber Security Law sets high requirements for the operational security of facilities deemed to be part of the PRC’s “critical information infrastructure.” These requirements include data localization, i.e., storing personal information and important business data in China, and national security review requirements for any network products or services that may have an impact on national security. Among other factors, “critical information infrastructure” is defined as critical information infrastructure, that will, in the event of destruction, loss of function or data leak, result in serious damage to national security, the national economy and people’s livelihood, or the public interest. Specific reference is made to key sectors such as public communication and information services, energy, transportation, water-resources, finance, public service and e-government. However, no official guidelines as to the scope of “critical information infrastructure” have been formally issued, therefore there is no assurance that we may not be considered an operator of “critical information infrastructure” in the future as the definition is not precise, and there are substantial uncertainties as to the ultimate interpretation and implementation of the Cyber Security Law. If we are considered as an operator of “critical information infrastructure”, the Cyber Security Law could cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business.
We are required to, but have not been able to, verify the identities of all of our users who post on Weibo or Yizhibo, and our noncompliance exposes us to potentially severe penalty by the Chinese government.
The Rules on the Administration of Microblog Development, issued by the Beijing Municipal Government in 2011, stipulate that users who post publicly on microblogs are required to disclose their real identity to the microblogging service provider, though they may still use pen names on their accounts. Microblogging service providers are required to verify the identities of their users. In addition, microblogging service providers based in Beijing were required to verify the identities of all of their users, including existing users who post publicly on their websites. Furthermore, pursuant to the Cyber Security Law passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which came into effect on June 1, 2017, we will also be required to verify users’ real identities when they sign up. Further, both the Administrative Measures on Group Chat Service and the Administrative Measures on Internet User Public Account Information Service require verification of user’s real identity, both of which were issued on September 7, 2017 and became effective on October 8, 2017. On August 1, 2018, the CAC and the other five PRC governmental authorities jointly issued the Circular on Tightening the Administration of Online Live-streaming Services, or the Online Live-streaming Services Circular, which specifies that online live-streaming service providers are required to implement real name verification system for users. Several additional regulations, including the Cyber Security Law, the Administrative Measures on Group Chat Service, and the Administrative Measures on Internet User Public Account Information Service, also requires verification of users’ identify when they sign up.
We have made significant efforts to comply with the user verification requirements. However, for reasons including existing user behaviors, the nature of the microblogging product and online live-streaming and the lack of clarity on specific implementation procedures, we have not been able to verify the identities of all of the users who post content publicly on Weibo or Yizhibo. We are potentially liable for our noncompliance and may be subject to penalties including the deactivation of certain features on Weibo or Yizhibo, a written warning, suspension or termination of Weibo or Yizhibo operations, fines, revocation of licenses or business license, or other penalties imposed by the Chinese government. Any of the above actions may have a material and adverse impact on the trading price of our ADSs.
Regulatory investigations could cause us to incur additional expenses or change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business.
Internet content regulation in China is continuously evolving, which can at times result in sustained periods of enhanced enforcement of content censorship, cyber security reviews, user privacy compliance, and internet financial services oversight. In April 2018, relevant regulators have ordered the suspension or significant curtailment of four of China’s most popular news content apps as well as one of the most popular humor platforms, all in connection with content being shared or accessed by users.
In a period of enhanced scrutiny of internet content, we may be become subject to regulatory investigations or audits in connection with products or services we provide or for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform, or distributed to our users. During such investigation, some or all of our products, services, features or functionalities could be terminated, and our Apps could be removed from relevant App stores. It is also possible that a regulatory investigation could result in changes to our policies or practices, could result in reputational harm, prevent us from offering certain products, services, features or functionalities, cause us to incur substantial costs, or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business.
We may have to register our encryption software with Chinese regulatory authorities. If they request that we change our encryption software, our business operations could be disrupted as we develop or license replacement software.
Pursuant to the Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Encryption promulgated in 1999, foreign and domestic companies operating in China are required to seek approval from the Office of the State for Cipher Code Administration, the Chinese encryption regulatory authority, for the commercial encryption products they use. Companies operating in China are allowed to use only commercial cipher code products approved by this authority and are prohibited to use self-developed or imported cipher code products without approval. In addition, all cipher code products shall be produced by those producers appointed and approved by this authority. Additional rules became effective in 2006 regulating many aspects of commercial cipher code products in detail, including development, production and sales.
Because these regulations do not specify what constitutes a cipher code product, we are unsure as to whether or how they apply to us and the encryption software we utilize. We may be required to register or apply for permits for our current or future encryption software. If the PRC authorities request that we register our encryption software or change our current encryption software to an approved cipher code product produced by an appointed producer, it could disrupt our business operations.
Regulations on virtual currency may adversely affect our game operations revenues.
We have provided Weibo Credit as an online virtual currency for users to purchase in-game virtual items or other types of fee-based services on our platform. In the fourth quarter of 2020, we acquired the majority equity shares of JM Tech, a company operating several online interactive entertainment apps in China including “Pocket Werewolves.” JM Tech provides “gold coin” as an online virtual currency for users to purchase items to be used in those apps. The Notice on the Strengthening of Administration on Online Game Virtual Currency, jointly issued by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Commerce in 2009, broadly defined virtual currency as a type of virtual exchange instrument issued by internet game operation enterprises, purchased directly or indirectly by the game users by exchanging legal currency at a certain exchange rate, saved outside the game programs, stored in servers provided by the internet game operation enterprises in electronic record format and represented by specific numeric units. Virtual currency is used to exchange internet game services provided by the issuing enterprise for a designated extent and time, and is represented by several forms, such as online prepaid game cards, prepaid amounts or internet game points, and does not include game props obtained from playing online games. In 2009, the Ministry of Culture further promulgated the Filing Guidelines on Online Game Virtual Currency Issuing Enterprises and Online Game Virtual Currency Trading Enterprises, which specifically defines “issuing enterprise” and “trading enterprise” and stipulates that a single enterprise may not operate both types of business.
Although we believe we do not offer online game virtual currency trading services, we cannot assure you that the PRC regulatory authorities will not take a view contrary to ours, in which case we may be subject to fines or even required by the PRC regulators to change our practices related to Weibo Credit or “gold coin” in games operated by JM Tech, which consequently will have an adverse effect on our game-related revenues.
Adverse changes in China’s or global economic and political policies could have a material and adverse effect on overall economic growth in China, which could materially and adversely affect our business.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in China and substantially all of our revenues are sourced from China. Accordingly, our results of operations, financial condition and prospects are influenced by economic, political and legal developments in China. Economic reforms begun in the late 1970s have resulted in significant economic growth. However, any economic reform policies or measures in China may from time to time be modified or revised. China’s economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the extent of the government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. The PRC government exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through strategically allocating resources, controlling the payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past decades, growth has been uneven across different regions and between economic sectors, and the growth rate of the Chinese economy has gradually slowed since 2010, which trend may continue. Furthermore, China's GDP growth turned negative in the first quarter of 2020. Any adverse changes in economic conditions in China, in the policies of the Chinese government or in the laws and regulations in China could have a material adverse effect on the overall economic growth of China. Such developments could adversely affect our business and operating results, lead to reduction in demand for our products and services and adversely affect our competitive position. The Chinese government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations.
COVID-19 had a severe and negative impact on the Chinese and the global economy in the first quarter of 2020. Whether this will lead to a prolonged downturn in the economy is still unknown. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global macroeconomic environment was facing numerous challenges. The growth rate of the Chinese economy has gradually slowed in recent years and the trend may continue. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies which had been adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China, even before 2020. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential for war in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including the surrounding Asian countries, which may potentially have economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the global and Chinese economy severely in 2020. Our results of operations and financial condition have been affected negatively by the spread of COVID-19 during the year of 2020. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economy may further materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The slowdown of new smartphone shipment in China may lead to the slowdown of growth rate of our new users, which could materially and adversely affect our business.
The smartphone shipment in China decreased in 2020, compared to 2019. The growth of Weibo’s user base is impacted by the growth of new users from Weibo app, and pre-installation of Weibo app on new smartphones is an important source of new Weibo users. A continuing slowdown of new smartphone shipment in China may adversely impact the growth rate of our new users. If this trend continues, our business and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to you and us.
The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investments in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China. In particular, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection available to you and us.
Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of any of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. Such uncertainties, including uncertainty over the scope and effect of our contractual, property (including intellectual property) and procedural rights, and any failure to respond to changes in the regulatory environment in China could materially and adversely affect our business and impede our ability to continue our operations.
We face uncertainties with respect to the enactment, interpretation and implementation of Notice 78.
On November 12, 2020, the NRTA issued the Notice on Strengthening the Management of Online Show Live Streaming and E-commerce Live Streaming, or the Notice 78. According to the Notice 78, platforms providing online show live streaming or e-commerce live streaming services shall, among other things, register their information and business operations by November 30, 2020, ensure real-name registration for all live streaming hosts and virtual gifting users, prohibit users that are minors or without real-name registration from virtual gifting, and set a limit on the maximum amount of virtual gifting per time, per day, and per month.
There is currently no explicit provisions as to what limits on virtual gifting will be imposed by the NRTA pursuant to Notice 78 and it is unclear how and to what degree any such limits would be imposed on different platforms. Given there is no explicit provisions on how to set the limit on virtual gifting, we are currently not able to assess the potential impact from this requirement under Notice 78 on the virtual gifting spending activities on our platform. Any such limits ultimately imposed may negatively impact our revenues derived from virtual gifting and our results of operations.
Notice 78 requests the live streaming platforms for online shows and e-commerce to register in the National Internet Audio-Visual Platforms Information Management System, and we have completed such registration. Notice 78 also sets forth requirements for certain live streaming businesses with respect to, among others, real-name registration, limits on user spending on virtual gifting, restrictions on minors on virtual gifting, live streaming review personnel requirements, and content tagging requirements. For more information on Notice 78, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Online Live-streaming Services.”
Since Notice 78 was only issued in November 2020 and some of the requirements in Notice 78 are unclear and have no explicit provisions or implementation standards, we are still in the process of getting further guidance from regulatory authorities and evaluating the applicability and effect of the various requirements under Notice 78 on our business. Any further rulemaking under Notice 78 or other intensified regulation with respect to live streaming may increase our compliance burden in the live streaming business, and may have an adverse impact on our business and results of operations.
Any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms Economy Sector and other PRC anti-monopoly laws and regulations may result in governmental investigations or enforcement actions, litigation or claims against us and could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The PRC anti-monopoly enforcement agencies have strengthened enforcement under the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law in recent years. On December 28, 2018, the SAMR issued the Notice on Anti-monopoly Enforcement Authorization, pursuant to which its province-level branches are authorized to conduct anti-monopoly enforcement within their respective jurisdictions. On September 11, 2020, the SAMR issued Anti-monopoly Compliance Guideline for Operators, which requires operators to establish anti-monopoly compliance management systems under the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law to manage anti-monopoly compliance risks. On February 7, 2021, the Anti-Monopoly Commission of the State Council published Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for the Internet Platform Economy Sector that specified circumstances where an activity of an internet platform will be identified as monopolistic act as well as merger controlling filing procedures involving variable interest entities. On March 12, 2021, the SAMR published several administrative penalty cases about concentration of business operators that violated PRC Anti-Monopoly Law in the internet sector. As of the date of this annual report, we have not received any investigation or penalty in relation to the violation of PRC anti-monopoly laws and regulations. There are significant uncertainties associated with the evolving legislative activities and varied local implementation practices of anti-monopoly and competition laws and regulations in China. It will be costly for us to adjust our business practice in order to comply with these evolving laws, regulations, rules, guidelines and implementations. Any incompliance or associated inquiries, investigations and other governmental actions may divert significant management time and attention and our financial resources, lead to negative publicity, liabilities or administrative penalties, therefore materially and adversely affect our financial conditions, operations and business prospects.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC licensing and regulation of internet businesses.
The PRC government extensively regulates the internet industry, including the licensing and permit requirements pertaining to companies in this industry. Internet-related laws and regulations in China are relatively new and evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainty. As a result, it may be difficult to determine what actions or omissions may be deemed to be violations of applicable laws and regulations in certain circumstances.
Weimeng holds an Internet Content Provision License and an Online Culture Operating Permit that are necessary for operating our current business in China. Weimeng also holds an inter-regional Value-Added Telecommunications Services Operating License for provision of value-added telecommunication services nationwide. However, we cannot assure you that we have obtained all the permits or licenses required for conducting our business in China or will be able to maintain our existing licenses or obtain any new licenses if required by any new laws or regulations. Weimeng has been actively communicating with the relevant regulator for the application of an internet publishing permit. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Online Game Operations and Cultural Products.” In addition, companies engaging in internet broadcasting activities, such as the Yizhibo live streaming business we acquired in October 2018, must first obtain an audio/video program transmission license. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Broadcasting Audio/Video Programs through the Internet” for more details. Weimeng is not qualified to obtain the internet audio/video program transmission license under the current legal regime as it is not a wholly state-owned or state-controlled company and it was not operating prior to the issuance of the Rules for the Administration of Internet Audio and Video Program Services, commonly known as Circular 56. Weimeng plans to apply for an internet audio/video program transmission license when feasible to do so. In June 2017, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China issued a public notice stating that it had requested the local competent authorities to take measures to suspend several companies’ video and audio services due to their lacking of an internet audio/video program transmission license and posting of certain commentary programs with content in violation of government regulations on their sites, and Weibo is named as one of these companies. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Beijing Integrated Law Enforcement on the Cultural Market issued five decisions on administrative penalty to Weimeng, each of which imposed a warning and a fine of RMB30,000 on Weimeng on the grounds that Weimeng carried on internet audio/video program services without obtaining the internet audio/video program transmission license and provided online broadcasting services for relevant programs posted by certain registered users of Weibo. We have cooperated with the relevant government authorities to take corrective measures. However, there can be no assurance that there will not be any further enforcement action, the occurrence of which may result in further liabilities, penalties and operational disruption. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Internet News Dissemination.” If we fail to obtain such licenses or any additional licenses required by new laws and regulations in a timely manner or at all, we could be subject to liabilities, penalties and operational disruption.
Foreign investment in online game operation is prohibited under PRC law. We currently provide our online game services through Weimeng, Weibo Interactive and Weimeng Chuangke’s subsidiaries. However, certain contracts relating to our online game services were entered into between our PRC subsidiary, Weimeng and the game developers, under which our PRC subsidiary, together with Weimeng, provides certain technical services through our website. Under these agreements, our PRC subsidiary, a foreign-invested enterprise, may be deemed to be providing value-added telecommunication services without the necessary licenses. If so, we may be subject to sanctions, including payment of delinquent taxes and fines, which may significantly disrupt our operations and materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Furthermore, the operation of online games in China is highly regulated by the PRC government. The publication of a new online game or a significant upgrade of an existing online game requires approval from the National Press and Publication Administration, or the NPPA. There are uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the laws and regulations governing online games. Certain games may not be able to obtain such approval due to the narrow interpretation of the scope of “game” adopted by NPPA in practice. For example, “Pocket Werewolves” operated by JM Tech may not be able to obtain the approval from NPPA as it is considered a social app instead of a game app. If any online game operated on our platform or by JM Tech fails to timely obtain necessary regulatory approval, the operator of the relevant game may be subject to various penalties, and the operation of the relevant game could be suspended or discontinued, which could adversely affect our business.
In addition, due to the increasing popularity and use of the internet, online games and other online services, it is possible that additional laws and regulations may be adopted with respect to the internet, online games or other online services covering issues such as user privacy, pricing, content, copyrights and distribution. The adoption of additional laws or regulations may decrease the growth of the internet, online games or other online services, which could in turn decrease the demand for our products and services and increase our cost of doing business.
If the game publishers and operators fail to maintain the normal publication and operation of their online games, or if they fail to complete or obtain the necessary approvals and filings of their online games, our operations may be negatively impacted, and we may be subject to penalties for live streaming such games.
PRC regulations of loans to PRC entities and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies may delay or prevent us from using offshore funds to make loans or additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiary.
We may transfer funds to our PRC subsidiary or finance our PRC subsidiary by means of shareholder loans or capital contributions. Any loans from us to our PRC subsidiary, which is a foreign-invested enterprise, cannot exceed statutory limits based on the difference between the registered capital and the investment amount of such subsidiary, and shall be registered with the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or SAFE, or its local counterparts. Any capital contributions we make to our PRC subsidiary shall be approved by the Ministry of Commerce or its local counterparts. We may not be able to obtain these government registrations or approvals on a timely basis, if at all. If we fail to receive such registrations or approvals, our ability to provide loans or capital contributions to our PRC subsidiary in a timely manner may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
On March 30, 2015, SAFE issued the Circular on Reform of the Administrative Rules of the Payment and Settlement of Foreign Exchange Capital of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 19, which became effective on June 1, 2015. SAFE Circular 19 adopts a concept of “discretionary conversion,” which is defined as the conversion of a foreign-invested enterprise’s foreign currency registered capital in accordance with the enterprise’s actual business needs. No review of the purpose of the funds is required at the time of conversion under SAFE Circular 19. However, use of any RMB funds converted from its registered capital shall be based on true transactions. In addition, equity investments using converted registered capital are no longer prohibited under SAFE Circular 19.
SAFE issued the Circular on Reforming and Regulating Policies on the Control over Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital Accounts, or SAFE Circular 16, on June 9, 2016, which became effective on the same day. Pursuant to SAFE Circular 16, enterprises registered in the PRC may also convert their foreign debts from foreign currency to RMB on self-discretionary basis. SAFE Circular 16 provides an integrated standard for conversion of foreign exchange under capital account items (including but not limited to foreign currency capital and foreign debts) on self-discretionary basis which applies to all enterprises registered in the PRC. SAFE Circular 16 reiterates the principle that RMB converted from foreign currency-denominated capital of a company may not be directly or indirectly used for purposes beyond its business scope or prohibited by PRC laws or regulations, while such converted RMB shall not be provided as loans to its non-affiliated entities, or used for construction and purchase of non-self-used real estate (excluding real estate enterprises) or unless otherwise expressly provided in law, directly or indirectly used in securities investment or other financial management excluding the bank capital preservation products.
Violations of SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16 could result in administrative penalties. SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16 may significantly limit our ability to transfer any foreign currency we hold, including the net proceeds from our equity offering and notes offering, to our PRC subsidiaries, which may adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business in China.
On October 23, 2019, SAFE issued the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Further Promoting the Facilitation of Cross-border Trade and Investment, or SAFE Circular 28. SAFE Circular 28 allows non-investment foreign-invested enterprises to use their capital funds to make equity investments in China, provided that such investments do not violate the Negative List and that the target investment projects are genuine and in compliance with PRC laws.
In light of the various requirements imposed by PRC regulations on loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies, we cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans by us to our PRC subsidiary or with respect to future capital contributions by us to our PRC subsidiaries. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to use the proceeds we received from our equity offering and notes offering and to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
We may be subject to penalties, including restriction on our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiary and our PRC subsidiary’s ability to distribute profits to us, if our PRC resident shareholders beneficial owners fail to comply with relevant PRC foreign exchange rules.
The SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Relating to Domestic Resident’s Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, in July 2014 that requires PRC residents or entities to register with SAFE or its local branch in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing. In addition, such PRC residents or entities must update their SAFE registrations when the offshore special purpose vehicle undergoes material events relating to any change of basic information (including change of such PRC citizens or residents, name and operation term), increases or decreases in investment amount, transfers or exchanges of shares, or mergers or divisions.
SAFE Circular 37 is issued to replace the Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration for PRC Residents Engaging in Financing and Roundtrip Investments via Overseas Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 75.
If our shareholders who are PRC residents or entities do not complete their registration with the local SAFE branches, our PRC subsidiaries may be prohibited from distributing their profits and proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation to us, and we may be restricted in our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiaries. Moreover, failure to comply with the SAFE registration described above could result in liability under PRC laws for evasion of applicable foreign exchange restrictions.
We have requested all of our current shareholders and/or beneficial owners to disclose whether they or their shareholders or beneficial owners fall within the ambit of Circular 37 and have urged relevant shareholders and beneficial owners, upon learning they are PRC residents, to register with the local SAFE branch as required under Circular 37. However, we may not be informed of the identities of all the PRC residents or entities holding direct or indirect interest in our company, nor can we compel our beneficial owners to comply with SAFE registration requirements. As a result, we cannot assure you that all of our shareholders or beneficial owners who are PRC residents or entities have complied with, and will in the future make or obtain any applicable registrations or approvals required by, SAFE regulations. Failure by such shareholders or beneficial owners to comply with SAFE regulations, or failure by us to amend the foreign exchange registrations of our PRC subsidiaries, could subject us to fines or legal sanctions, restrict our overseas or cross-border investment activities, limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to make distributions or pay dividends to us or affect our ownership structure, which could adversely affect our business and prospects.
We and/or our Hong Kong subsidiary may be classified as a “PRC resident enterprise” for PRC enterprise income tax purposes. Such classification would likely result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our non-PRC shareholders and have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and the value of your investment.
The Enterprise Income Tax Law provides that an enterprise established outside China whose “de facto management body” is located in China is considered a “PRC resident enterprise” and will generally be subject to the uniform 25% enterprise income tax on its global income. Under the implementation rules of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, “de facto management body” is defined as the organizational body which effectively manages and controls the production and business operation, personnel, accounting, properties and other aspects of operations of an enterprise.”
Pursuant to the Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-Controlled Offshore Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the Basis of De Facto Management Bodies, issued by the State Administration of Taxation in 2009, a foreign enterprise controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups is considered a PRC resident enterprise if all of the following conditions are met: (i) the senior management and core management departments in charge of daily operations are located mainly within the PRC; (ii) financial and human resources decisions are subject to determination or approval by persons or bodies in the PRC; (iii) major assets, accounting books, company seals and minutes and files of board and shareholders’ meetings are located or kept within the PRC; and (iv) at least half of the enterprise’s directors with voting rights or senior management reside within the PRC. Although the notice states that these standards only apply to offshore enterprises that are controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, such standards may reflect the general view of the State Administration of Taxation in determining the tax residence of foreign enterprises.
We believe that neither our company nor our Hong Kong subsidiary is a PRC resident enterprise because neither our company nor our Hong Kong subsidiary meets all of the conditions enumerated. For example, board and shareholders’ resolutions of our company and our Hong Kong subsidiary are adopted in Hong Kong and the minutes and related files are kept in Hong Kong. However, if the PRC tax authorities were to disagree with our position, our company and/or our Hong Kong subsidiary may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax reporting obligations and to a 25% enterprise income tax on our global taxable income, except for our income from dividends received from our PRC subsidiary, which may be exempt from PRC tax. If we and/or our Hong Kong subsidiary are treated as a PRC resident enterprise, the 25% enterprise income tax may adversely affect our ability to satisfy any of our cash needs.
In addition, if we were to be classified as a PRC “resident enterprise” for PRC enterprise income tax purpose, dividends we pay to our non-PRC enterprise shareholders and gains derived by our non-PRC enterprise shareholders from the sale of our shares and ADSs may be become subject to a 10% PRC withholding tax. In addition, future guidance may extend the withholding tax to dividends we pay to our non-PRC individual shareholders and gains derived by such shareholders from transferring our shares and ADSs. In addition to the uncertainty in how the new “resident enterprise” classification could apply, it is also possible that the rules may change in the future, possibly with retroactive effect. If PRC income tax were imposed on gains realized through the transfer of our ADSs or ordinary shares or on dividends paid to our non-resident shareholders, the value of your investment in our ADSs or ordinary shares may be materially and adversely affected.
Any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiary to make payments to us, or the tax implications of making payments to us, could have a material adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business or our financial condition.
We are a holding company, and we rely principally on dividends and other distributions from our PRC subsidiary for our cash needs, including the funds necessary to pay dividends to our shareholders or service any debt we may incur. Current PRC regulations permit our PRC subsidiary to pay dividends only out of its accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, our PRC subsidiary is required to set aside at least 10% of its after-tax profits each year, if any, to fund certain statutory reserve funds until the aggregate amount of such reserve funds reaches 50% of its registered capital. Apart from these reserves, our PRC subsidiary may allocate a discretionary portion of its after-tax profits to staff welfare and bonus funds at its discretion. These reserves and funds are not distributable as cash dividends. Furthermore, if our PRC subsidiary incurs debt, the debt instruments may restrict its ability to pay dividends or make other payments to us. We cannot assure you that our PRC subsidiary will generate sufficient earnings and cash flows in the near future to pay dividends or otherwise distribute sufficient funds to enable us to meet our obligations, pay interest and expenses or declare dividends.
Distributions made by PRC companies to their offshore parents are generally subject to a 10% withholding tax under the Enterprise Income Tax Law. Pursuant to the Enterprise Income Tax Law and the Arrangement between the Mainland of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income, the withholding tax rate on dividends paid by our PRC subsidiary to our Hong Kong subsidiary would generally be reduced to 5%, provided that our Hong Kong subsidiary is the beneficial owner of the PRC sourced income. However, the Notice on How to Understand and Determine the Beneficial Owners in a Tax Agreement, also known as Circular 601, promulgated by the State Administration of Taxation in 2009, provides guidance for determining whether a resident of a contracting state is the “beneficial owner” of an item of income under China’s tax treaties and similar arrangements. According to Circular 601, a beneficial owner generally must be engaged in substantive business activities. An agent or conduit company will not be regarded as a beneficial owner and, therefore, will not qualify for treaty benefits. For this purpose, a conduit company is a company that is set up for the purpose of avoiding or reducing taxes or transferring or accumulating profits. Although our PRC subsidiary is wholly owned by our Hong Kong subsidiary, we will not be able to enjoy the 5% withholding tax rate with respect to any dividends or distributions made by our PRC subsidiary to its parent company in Hong Kong if our Hong Kong subsidiary is regarded as a “conduit company.”
In addition, if Weibo HK were deemed to be a PRC resident enterprise, then dividends payable by Weibo HK to Weibo Corporation may become subject to 10% PRC dividend withholding tax. Under such circumstances, it is not clear whether dividends payable by Weibo Technology to Weibo Corporation would still be subject to PRC dividend withholding tax and whether such tax, if imposed, would be imposed at a rate of 5% or 10%.
Restrictions on the remittance of RMB into and out of China and governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to pay dividends and other obligations, and affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the RMB into foreign currencies and the remittance of currency out of China. We receive substantially all of our revenues in RMB and the majority of our cash inflows and outflows are denominated in RMB. Under our current corporate structure, our cash needs are dependent on dividend payments from our subsidiary in China after it receives payments from our VIEs under various services and other contractual arrangements. We may convert a portion of our RMB into other currencies to meet our foreign currency obligations, such as payments of dividends declared in respect of our ordinary shares, if any. Shortages in the availability of foreign currency may restrict the ability of our PRC subsidiary to remit sufficient foreign currency to pay dividends or other payments to us, or otherwise satisfy its foreign currency denominated obligations.
Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including profit distributions, interest payments and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior SAFE approval as long as certain routine procedural requirements are fulfilled. Therefore, our PRC subsidiary is allowed to pay dividends in foreign currencies to us without prior SAFE approval by following certain routine procedural requirements. However, approval from or registration with competent government authorities is required where the RMB is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. The PRC government may at its discretion restrict access to foreign currencies for current account transactions in the future. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
Discontinuation of preferential tax treatment or imposition of any additional taxes could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
The Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementing rules have adopted a uniform statutory enterprise income tax rate of 25% to all enterprises in China. The Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementing rules also permit qualified “software enterprises” to enjoy a two-year income tax exemption starting from the first profit making year, followed by a reduced tax rate of 12.5% for the subsequent three years. In addition, qualified “key software enterprises” can enjoy a reduced tax rate of 10%. Weibo Technology, our PRC subsidiary, was qualified as a “software enterprise” on December 19, 2011, the qualification of which was renewed each year. Accordingly, Weibo Technology is eligible for the relevant preferential tax treatment upon filing with the relevant tax authorities. Its qualification as a “software enterprise” is subject to annual evaluation by the relevant authorities in China. Weibo Technology, a qualified software enterprise, enjoyed the relevant tax holiday from its first accumulative profitable year in 2015 and was subject to a reduced enterprise income tax rate of 12.5% from 2017 to 2019. Although Weibo Technology was qualified as a “software enterprise” in 2020, it will not enjoy a reduced tax rate as it has been five years since it first became profitable in 2015. Weibo Technology completed its filings as a “key software enterprise” with the tax authority in 2018, 2019 and 2020 for its status of 2017, 2018 and 2019, therefore is entitled to enjoy a further reduced preferential tax rate of 10% for 2017, 2018 and 2019. The qualification as a “key software enterprise” is subject to annual evaluation and approval by the relevant authorities in China and we will only recognize the preferential tax treatment of “key software enterprise” status when approval from the relevant authorities is obtained, usually one year in arrears. On February 7, 2021, the NDRC published the Circular on the Requirements for the Formulation of the List of Integrated Circuit Enterprises or Project and Software Enterprises Enjoying Tax Preferences for the public comment by April 6, 2021, which provides higher requirements on “key software enterprise” than before. If Weibo Technology fails to maintain its “key software enterprise” qualification, its applicable corporate income tax rate would increase to 25%, which could have an adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Furthermore, certain enterprises may still benefit from a preferential tax rate of 15% under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementing rules if they qualify as a “High and New Technology Enterprise” subject to certain general factors described in the Enterprise Income Tax Law and the related regulations. Weibo Technology is qualified as a High and New Technology Enterprise and is entitled to a preferential tax rate of 15% for the fiscal years from 2017 to 2022. Its qualification as a “High and New Technology Enterprise” is subject to annual evaluation and a three-year review by the relevant authorities in China. If Weibo Technology fails to maintain its “High and New Technology Enterprise” qualification, its applicable corporate income tax rate would increase to 25%, which could have an adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for stock ownership plans or stock option plans may subject PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Under SAFE regulations, PRC residents who participate in an employee stock ownership plan or stock option plan in an overseas publicly listed company are required to register with SAFE or its local branch and complete certain other procedures. Participants of a stock incentive plan who are PRC residents must retain a qualified PRC agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas publicly listed company, to conduct the SAFE registration and other procedures with respect to the stock incentive plan on behalf of these participants. Such participants must also retain an overseas entrusted institution to handle matters in connection with their exercise or sale of stock options. In addition, the PRC agent is required to amend the SAFE registration with respect to the stock incentive plan if there is any material change to the stock incentive plan, the PRC agent or the overseas entrusted institution or other material changes.
We and our PRC resident employees who participate in our share incentive plans have been subject to these regulations since our company became publicly listed in the United States. If we or our PRC resident employees who participate in our share incentive plans fail to comply with these regulations in the future, we or our PRC resident employees who participate in our share incentive plans and their local employers may be subject to fines and legal sanctions. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Employee Stock Options Plans.”
Fluctuation in the value of the RMB may have a material adverse effect on the value of your investment.
The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The value of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. We cannot assure you that Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Our revenues and costs are mostly denominated in RMB, and a significant portion of our financial assets are also denominated in RMB, whereas our reporting currency is the U.S. dollar. Any significant depreciation of the RMB may materially and adversely affect our revenues, earnings and financial position as reported in U.S. dollars. To the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars we received from offerings or debt financing into RMB for our operations, appreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the RMB amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, if we decide to convert our RMB into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or ADSs or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the RMB would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount available to us.
PRC laws and regulations establish more complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
A number of PRC laws and regulations, including the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors adopted by six PRC regulatory agencies in 2006, or the M&A Rules, the Anti-Monopoly Law, and the Rules of Ministry of Commerce on Implementation of Security Review System of Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors promulgated by the Ministry of Commerce in August 2011, or the Security Review Rules, have established procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time consuming and complex. These include requirements in some instances that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any change of control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise, or that the approval from the Ministry of Commerce be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. PRC laws and regulations also require certain merger and acquisition transactions to be subject to merger control review or security review.
The Security Review Rules were formulated to implement the Notice of the General Office of the State Council on Establishing the Security Review System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, also known as Circular 6, which was promulgated in 2011. Under these rules, a security review is required for mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors having “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions by which foreign investors may acquire the “de facto control” of domestic enterprises have “national security” concerns. In addition, when deciding whether a specific merger or acquisition of a domestic enterprise by foreign investors is subject to the security review, the Ministry of Commerce will look into the substance and actual impact of the transaction. The Security Review Rules further prohibits foreign investors from bypassing the security review requirement by structuring transactions through proxies, trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements or offshore transactions.
There is no requirement for foreign investors in those mergers and acquisitions transactions already completed prior to the promulgation of Circular 6 to submit such transactions to the Ministry of Commerce for security review. As we have already obtained the “de facto control” over our affiliated PRC entities prior to the effectiveness of these rules, we do not believe we are required to submit our existing contractual arrangements to the Ministry of Commerce for security review.
However, as these rules are relatively new and there is a lack of clear statutory interpretation on the implementation of the same, there is no assurance that the Ministry of Commerce will not apply these national security review-related rules to the acquisition of equity interest in our PRC subsidiary. If we are found to be in violation of the Security Review Rules and other PRC laws and regulations with respect to the merger and acquisition activities in China, or fail to obtain any of the required approvals, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violation, including levying fines, confiscating our income, revoking our PRC subsidiary’s business or operating licenses, requiring us to restructure or unwind the relevant ownership structure or operations. Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations and may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Further, if the business of any target company that we plan to acquire falls into the ambit of security review, we may not be able to successfully acquire such company either by equity or asset acquisition, capital contribution or through any contractual arrangement. We may grow our business in part by acquiring other companies operating in our industry. Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulations to complete such transactions could be time consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from the Ministry of Commerce, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
The heightened scrutiny over acquisition transactions by the PRC tax authorities may have a negative impact on our business operations, our acquisition or restructuring strategy or the value of your investment in us.
The State Administration of Taxation has issued several rules and notices to tighten the scrutiny over acquisition transactions in recent years, including the Notice on Certain Corporate Income Tax Matters Related to Indirect Transfer of Properties by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises issued in February 2015, or SAT Circular 7. Pursuant to these rules and notices, except for a few circumstances falling into the scope of the safe harbor provided by SAT Circular 7, such as open market trading of stocks in public companies listed overseas, if a non-PRC resident enterprise indirectly transfers PRC taxable properties (i.e. properties of an establishment or a place in the PRC, real estate properties in the PRC or equity investments in a PRC tax resident enterprise) by disposing of equity interest or other similar rights in an overseas holding company, without a reasonable commercial purpose and resulting in the avoidance of PRC enterprise income tax, such indirect transfer should be deemed as a direct transfer of PRC taxable properties and gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to the PRC withholding tax at a rate of up to 10%. SAT Circular 7 sets out several factors to be taken into consideration by tax authorities in determining whether an indirect transfer has a reasonable commercial purpose, such as whether the main value of equity interest in an overseas holding company is derived directly or indirectly from PRC taxable properties. An indirect transfer satisfying all the following criteria will be deemed to lack reasonable commercial purpose and be taxable under PRC law without considering other factors set out by SAT Circular 7: (i) 75% or more of the equity value of the intermediary enterprise being transferred is derived directly or indirectly from the PRC taxable properties; (ii) at any time during the one-year period before the indirect transfer, 90% or more of the asset value of the intermediary enterprise (excluding cash) is comprised directly or indirectly of investments in the PRC, or 90% or more of its income is derived directly or indirectly from the PRC; (iii) the functions performed and risks assumed by the intermediary enterprise and any of its subsidiaries that directly or indirectly hold the PRC taxable properties are limited and are insufficient to prove their economic substance; and (iv) the foreign tax payable on the gain derived from the indirect transfer of the PRC taxable properties is lower than the potential PRC income tax on the direct transfer of such assets. SAT Circular 7 also introduces an interest regime by providing that where a transferor fails to file and pay tax on time, and where a withholding agent fails to withhold the tax, interest will be charged on a daily basis. If the transferor has provided the required documents and information or has filed and paid the tax within 30 days from the date that the share transfer contract or agreement is signed, then interest shall be calculated based on the benchmark interest rate; otherwise, the benchmark interest rate plus 5% will apply. Both the foreign transferor and the transferee, and the PRC tax resident enterprise whose equity interests are being transferred may voluntarily report the transfer by submitting the documents required in SAT Circular 7.
Although SAT Circular 7 provides clarity in many important areas, such as reasonable commercial purpose, there are still uncertainties on the tax reporting and payment obligations with respect to future private equity financing transactions, share exchange or other transactions involving the transfer of shares in non-PRC resident companies. Our company and other non-resident enterprises in our group may be subject to filing obligations or being taxed if our company and other non-resident enterprises in our group are transferors in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company and other non-resident enterprises in our group are transferees in such transactions. For the transfer of shares in our company by investors who are non-PRC resident enterprises, our PRC subsidiaries may be requested to assist in the filing under the rules and notices. As a result, we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with these rules and notices or to request the relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply, or to establish that our company and other non-resident enterprises in our group should not be taxed under these rules and notices, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
We cannot assure you that the PRC tax authorities will not, at their discretion, adjust any capital gains and impose tax return filing obligations on us or require us to provide assistance for the investigation of PRC tax authorities with respect thereto. In the future, we may conduct acquisitions or disposals of properties that may involve complex corporate structures. If the PRC tax authorities make adjustments to the taxable income of these transactions under SAT Circular 7, our income tax expenses associated with such potential transactions may be increased, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
We face certain risks relating to the real properties that we lease.
We lease office space for our operations in China. Any defects in lessors’ title to the leased properties may disrupt our use of our offices, which may in turn adversely affect our business operations. For example, certain buildings and the underlying land are not allowed to be used for industrial or commercial purposes without relevant authorities’ approval, and the lease of such buildings to companies like us may subject the lessor to pay premium fees to the PRC government. We cannot assure you that the lessor has obtained all or any of approvals from the relevant governmental authorities. In addition, some of our lessors have not provided us with documentation evidencing their title to the relevant leased properties. We cannot assure you that title to these properties we currently lease will not be challenged. In addition, we have not registered most of our lease agreements with relevant PRC governmental authorities as required by PRC law, and although failure to do so does not in itself invalidate the leases, we may not be able to defend these leases against bona fide third parties.
As of the date of this annual report, we are not aware of any actions, claims or investigations being contemplated by government authorities with respect to the defects in our leased real properties or any challenges by third parties to our use of these properties. However, if third parties who purport to be property owners or beneficiaries of the mortgaged properties challenge our right to use the leased properties, we may not be able to protect our leasehold interest and may be ordered to vacate the affected premises, which could in turn materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
Our significant deposits in certain banks in China may be at risk if these banks go bankrupt or otherwise do not have the liquidity to pay us during our deposit period.
As of December 31, 2020, we had approximately $3.0 billion in cash and cash equivalent, bank deposits and short term investments, such as time deposits, with large domestic banks in China. Our remaining cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments were held by financial institutions in the United States and Hong Kong. The terms of these deposits are, in general, up to twelve months. Historically, deposits in Chinese banks were viewed as secure due to the state policy on protecting depositors’ interests. However, the new Bankruptcy Law that came into effect in 2007 contains an article expressly stating that the State Council may promulgate implementation measures for the bankruptcy of Chinese banks based on the Bankruptcy Law, so the law contemplates the possibility that a Chinese bank may go bankrupt. In addition, foreign banks have been gradually permitted to operate in China since China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and have become strong competitors of Chinese banks in many respects, which may have increased the risk of bankruptcy or illiquidity for Chinese banks, including those in which we have deposits. In the event of bankruptcy or illiquidity of any one of the banks which holds our deposits, we are unlikely to claim our deposits back in full since we are unlikely to be classified as a secured creditor based on PRC laws.
On May 1, 2015, China’s new Deposit Insurance Regulation came into effect, pursuant to which banking financial institutions, such as commercial banks, established in China will be required to purchase deposit insurance for deposits in RMB and in foreign currency. Under this regulation, depositors will be fully indemnified for their deposits and interests in an aggregate amount up to a limit of RMB500,000. Deposits or interests over such limit will only be covered by the bank’s liquidation assets. Therefore, although this requirement to purchase deposit insurance may help, to a certain extent, prevent Chinese banks from going bankrupt, it would not be effective in providing effective protection for our accounts, as our aggregate deposits are much higher than the compensation limit.
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the PCAOB is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors with the benefits of such inspections.
The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, was enacted on December 18, 2020. The HFCA Act states if the SEC determines that we have filed audit reports issued by a registered public accounting firm that has not been subject to inspection by the PCAOB for three consecutive years beginning in 2021, the SEC shall prohibit our shares or ADSs from being traded on a national securities exchange or in the over the counter trading market in the U.S.
Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included elsewhere in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB, is subject to laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Since our auditor is located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is currently not inspected by the PCAOB.
On March 24, 2021, the SEC has adopted interim final rules relating to the implementation of certain disclosure and documentation requirements of the HFCA Act. We will be required to comply with these rules if the SEC identifies us as having a “non-inspection” year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the HFCA Act, including the listing and trading prohibition requirements described above.
The SEC may propose additional rules or guidance that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, issued the Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies to the then President of the United States. This report recommended the SEC implement five recommendations to address companies from jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfil its statutory mandate. Some of the concepts of these recommendations were implemented with the enactment of the HFCA Act. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCA Act. For example, if a company was not subject to PCAOB inspection, the report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
The SEC has announced that the SEC staff is preparing a consolidated proposal for the rules regarding the implementation of the HFCA Act and to address the recommendations in the PWG report. It is unclear when the SEC will complete its rulemaking and when such rules will become effective and what, if any, of the PWG recommendations will be adopted. The implications of this possible regulation in addition the requirements of the HFCA Act are uncertain. Such uncertainty could cause the market price of our ADSs to be materially and adversely affected, and our securities could be delisted or prohibited from being traded “over-the-counter” earlier than would be required by the HFCA Act. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the risk and uncertainty associated with a potential delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs.
The PCAOB’s inability to conduct inspections in China prevents it from fully evaluating the audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our ordinary shares are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to the PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our stock to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance, which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations undertaken by the PCAOB in the PRC or by the CSRC or the PRC Ministry of Finance in the United States. The PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance to permit joint inspections in the PRC of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges.
Proceedings instituted by the SEC against certain PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act.
In December 2012, the SEC instituted administrative proceedings against the Big Four PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, alleging that these firms had violated U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s rules and regulations thereunder by failing to provide to the SEC the firms’ audit work papers with respect to certain PRC-based companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
On January 22, 2014, the administrative law judge presiding over the matter rendered an initial decision that each of the firms had violated the SEC’s rules of practice by failing to produce audit papers and other documents to the SEC. The initial decision censured each of the firms and barred them from practicing before the SEC for a period of six months.
On February 6, 2015, the four China-based accounting firms each agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC and audit U.S.-listed companies. The settlement required the firms to follow detailed procedures and to seek to provide the SEC with access to Chinese firms’ audit documents via the CSRC. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four China-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year mark occurred on February 6, 2019. While we cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four China-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions, if the accounting firms are subject to additional remedial measures, our ability to file our financial statements in compliance with SEC requirements could be impacted. A determination that we have not timely filed financial statements in compliance with SEC requirements could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ADSs from Nasdaq or the termination of the registration of our ADSs under the Exchange Act, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigation or collect evidence within China.
Shareholder claims or regulatory investigation that are common in the United States generally are difficult to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigation initiated outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States may not be efficient in the absence of mutual and practical cooperation mechanism. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within the territory of the PRC. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an overseas securities regulator to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties faced by you in protecting your interests.
Risks Relating to Our ADSs
The trading price for our ADSs may fluctuate significantly.
The trading prices of our ADSs have fluctuated since we first listed our ADSs. During 2020, the trading price of our ADSs has ranged from $28.93 to $52.33 per ADS. The prices for our ADSs may continue to fluctuate because of broad market and industry factors, like the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in the United States. A number of Chinese companies have listed or are in the process of listing their securities on U.S. stock markets. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility, including price declines in connection with their initial public offerings. The trading performances of these Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings may affect the attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States in general and consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance.
In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for our ADSs may be highly volatile for factors specific to our own operations, including (but not limited to) the following:
|●||variations in our revenues, earnings, cash flow and data related to our active user base or user engagement;|
|●||announcements of new investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or joint ventures;|
|●||announcements of new services and expansions by us or our competitors;|
|●||changes in financial estimates by securities analysts;|
|●||detrimental adverse publicity about us or SINA;|
|●||additions or departures of key personnel;|
|●||release of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding equity securities or sales of additional equity securities; and|
|●||potential litigation or regulatory investigations.|
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and price at which our ADSs will trade.
If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or reports about our business, or if they adversely change their recommendations regarding our ADSs, the market price for our ADSs and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ADSs will be influenced by research or reports that industry or securities analysts publish about our business. If one or more analysts who cover us downgrade our ADSs, the market price for our ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease to cover us or fail to regularly publish reports on us, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which in turn could cause the market price or trading volume for our ADSs to decline.
The sale or availability for sale, or perceived sale or availability for sale, of substantial amounts of our ADSs could adversely affect their market price.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could adversely affect the market price of our ADSs and could materially impair our ability to raise capital through equity offerings in the future. We cannot predict what effect, if any, market sales of securities held by our significant shareholders or any other shareholder or the availability of these securities for future sale will have on the market price of our ADSs.
Our dual-class voting structure will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
Our ordinary shares are divided into Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares. Holders of Class A ordinary shares are entitled to one vote per share, while holders of Class B ordinary shares are entitled to three votes per share. All of the outstanding ordinary shares held by SINA as of the date of this annual report are Class B ordinary shares. All other ordinary shares that are outstanding as of the date of this annual report are Class A ordinary shares. We intend to maintain the dual-class voting structure in the future. Each Class B ordinary share is convertible into one Class A ordinary share at any time by the holder thereof. Class A ordinary shares are not convertible into Class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. Upon any transfer of Class B ordinary shares by a holder thereof to any person or entity which is not an affiliate (as defined in our memorandum and articles of association) of such holder, such Class B ordinary shares shall be automatically and immediately converted into the equal number of Class A ordinary shares. In addition, each Class B ordinary share shall automatically and immediately be converted into one Class A ordinary share if at any time SINA and its affiliates (as defined in our memorandum and articles of association) in the aggregate hold less than five percent (5%) of the issued Class B ordinary shares in our company, and no Class B ordinary shares shall be issued by our company thereafter.
Due to the disparate voting powers attached to these two classes of ordinary shares, SINA owned approximately 44.7% of our total issued and outstanding ordinary shares and 70.8% of the voting power of our outstanding shares as of February 28, 2021. Therefore, SINA will have decisive influence over matters requiring shareholders’ approval, including election of directors and significant corporate transactions, such as a merger or sale of our company. This concentrated control will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions that holders of Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
Techniques employed by short sellers may drive down the market price of our ADSs.
Short selling is the practice of selling securities that the seller does not own but rather has borrowed from a third-party with the intention of buying identical securities back at a later date to return to the lender. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the value of the securities between the sale of the borrowed securities and the purchase of the replacement shares, as the short seller expects to pay less in that purchase than it received in the sale. As it is in the short seller’s interest for the price of the security to decline, many short sellers publish, or arrange for the publication of, negative opinions regarding the relevant issuer and its business prospects in order to create negative market momentum and generate profits for themselves after selling a security short. These short attacks have, in the past, led to selling of shares in the market.
Public companies listed in the United States that have substantially all of their operations in China have been the subject of short selling. Much of the scrutiny and negative publicity has centered on allegations of a lack of effective internal control over financial reporting resulting in financial and accounting irregularities and mistakes, inadequate corporate governance policies or a lack of adherence thereto and, in many cases, allegations of fraud. As a result, many of these companies are now conducting internal and external investigations into the allegations and, in the interim, are subject to shareholder lawsuits and/or SEC enforcement actions.
It is not clear what effect such negative publicity could have on us. If we were to become the subject of any unfavorable allegations, whether such allegations are proven to be true or untrue, we could have to expend a significant amount of resources to investigate such allegations and/or defend ourselves. While we would strongly defend against any such short seller attacks, we may be constrained in the manner in which we can proceed against the relevant short seller by principles of freedom of speech, applicable state law or issues of commercial confidentiality. Such a situation could be costly and time-consuming and could distract our management from growing our business. Even if such allegations are ultimately proven to be groundless, allegations against us could severely impact our business operations and stockholder’s equity, and any investment in our ADSs could be greatly reduced or rendered worthless.
Because we do not expect to pay dividends in the foreseeable future, you must rely on price appreciation of our ADSs for return on your investment.
We currently intend to retain most, if not all, of our available funds and any future earnings to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we do not expect to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ADSs as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has complete discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to Cayman Islands law. In addition, our shareholders may by ordinary resolution declare dividends, but no dividend may exceed the amount recommended by our directors. Under Cayman Islands law, our company may pay dividends only out of either profit or share premium account, provided that in no circumstances may a dividend be paid if this would result in our company being unable to pay its debts as they fall due in the ordinary course of business. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiary, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. There is no guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value in the future or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
You may be subject to PRC income tax on dividends from us or on any gain realized on the transfer of our ADSs.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, subject to any applicable tax treaty or similar arrangement between the PRC and your jurisdiction of residence that provides for a different income tax arrangement, PRC withholding tax at the rate of 10% is normally applicable to dividends from PRC sources payable to investors that are non-PRC resident enterprises, which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC, or which have such establishment or place of business if the relevant income is not effectively connected with the establishment or place of business. Any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or shares by such non-PRC resident enterprise investors is also subject to 10% PRC income tax if such gain is regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC, unless a tax treaty or similar arrangement otherwise provides. Under the PRC Individual Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, dividends from sources within the PRC paid to foreign individual investors who are not PRC residents are generally subject to a PRC withholding tax at a rate of 20% and gains from PRC sources realized by such investors on the transfer of American depositary shares or shares are generally subject to 20% PRC income tax, in each case, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties and similar arrangements and PRC laws. Although substantially all of our business operations are in China, it is unclear whether dividends we pay with respect to our ADSs, or the gain realized from the transfer of our ADSs, would be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and as a result be subject to PRC income tax if we were considered a PRC resident enterprise, as described above. If PRC income tax were imposed on gains realized through the transfer of our ADSs or on dividends paid to our non-PRC resident investors, the value of your investment in our ADSs may be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, our ADS holders whose jurisdictions of residence have tax treaties or similar arrangements with China may not qualify for benefits under such tax treaties or arrangements.
We may be classified as a passive foreign investment company under U.S. federal income tax law, which could result in adverse consequences to U.S. Holders of our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares.
Depending upon the value of our assets, which is determined based, in part, on the market value of our ADSs, and the nature of our assets and income over time, we could be classified as a passive foreign investment company (a “PFIC”) for U.S. federal income tax purposes. We will be classified as a PFIC for any taxable year if either (i) 75% or more of our gross income for the taxable year is passive income or (ii) 50% or more of the value of our assets (determined on the basis of a quarterly average) is attributable to assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income (the “asset test”).
Although the law in this regard is not entirely clear, we treat our VIEs as being owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes because we control their management decisions and we are entitled to substantially all of their economic benefits, and, as a result, we consolidate their results of operations in our consolidated U.S. GAAP financial statements. If it were determined, however, that we are not the owner of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we would likely be treated as a PFIC for our current taxable year and any subsequent taxable year. Assuming that we are the owner of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes and based on our income and assets and the value of our ADSs, we do not believe that we were a PFIC for our taxable year ended December 31, 2020 and do not expect to be a PFIC for our current taxable year or for the foreseeable future.
Because PFIC status is a factual determination made annually after the close of each taxable year on the basis of the composition of our income and assets, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for the current taxable year or any future taxable year. Fluctuations in the market price of our ADSs may cause us to become a PFIC for the current or subsequent taxable years because the value of our assets for purposes of the asset test, including the value of our goodwill and unbooked intangibles, may be determined by reference to the market price of our ADSs from time to time (which may be volatile). In estimating the value of our goodwill and other unbooked intangibles, we have taken into account our current market capitalization. If our market capitalization subsequently declines, we may be or become classified as a PFIC for the current taxable year or future taxable years. In addition, the overall level of our passive assets will be affected by how, and how quickly, we spend our liquid assets. Under circumstances where our revenue from activities that produce passive income significantly increase relative to our revenue from activities that produce non-passive income, or where we determine not to deploy significant amounts of cash for active purposes, our risk of becoming classified as a PFIC may substantially increase. Furthermore, because there are uncertainties in the application of the relevant rules, it is possible that the Internal Revenue Service, may challenge our classification of certain income or assets as non-passive, or our valuation of our goodwill and other unbooked intangibles, each of which may result in our company becoming classified as a PFIC for the current or subsequent taxable years.
If we are or become classified as a PFIC, a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10.E. Additional Information—Taxation—U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations—General”) may be subject to reporting requirements and may incur significantly increased U.S. federal income tax on gain recognized on the sale or other disposition of, and on the receipt of distributions on the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares to the extent such gain or distribution is treated as an “excess distribution” under the U.S. federal income tax rules. Further, if we were a PFIC for any year during which a U.S. Holder held our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares, we would generally continue to be treated as a PFIC for all succeeding years during which such holder held our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares. U.S. Holders should consult their tax advisors concerning the U.S. federal income tax considerations of acquiring, holding and disposing of the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares if we are or become classified as a PFIC. For more information see “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Considerations” and “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations— Passive Foreign Investment Company Considerations s.”
Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could have a material adverse effect on the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain provisions to limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in change-of-control transactions. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. For example, our board of directors has the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges, and relative participating, optional or special rights and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares, in the form of ADS or otherwise. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and articles of association, the Companies Act (As Revised) of the Cayman Islands and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders to take action against our directors, actions by our minority shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors to our company under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
The Cayman Islands courts are also unlikely:
|●||to recognize or enforce against us judgments of courts of the United States based on certain civil liability provisions of U.S. securities laws; and|
|●||to impose liabilities against us, in original actions brought in the Cayman Islands, based on certain civil liability provisions of U.S. securities laws that are penal in nature.|
In those circumstances, although there is no statutory enforcement in the Cayman Islands of judgments obtained in the U.S., the courts of the Cayman Islands will recognize and enforce a foreign money judgment of a foreign court of competent jurisdiction without retrial on the merits based on the principle that a judgment of a competent foreign court imposes upon the judgment debtor an obligation to pay the sum for which judgment has been given provided certain conditions are met. For such a foreign judgment to be enforced in the Cayman Islands, such judgment must be final and conclusive and for a liquidated sum, and must not be in respect of taxes or a fine or penalty, inconsistent with a Cayman Islands judgment in respect of the same matter, impeachable on the grounds of fraud or obtained in a manner, and or be of a kind the enforcement of which is, contrary to natural justice or the public policy of the Cayman Islands (awards of punitive or multiple damages may well be held to be contrary to public policy). A Cayman Islands Court may stay enforcement proceedings if concurrent proceedings are being brought elsewhere.
As a result of all of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by our management, members of our board of directors or our controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are a Cayman Islands exempted company and all of our assets are located outside of the United States. Substantially all of our current operations are conducted in China. In addition, a majority of our current directors and officers are nationals and residents of countries other than the United States. Substantially all of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States in the event that you believe that your rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of China may render you unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to United States domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
|●||the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K with the SEC;|
|●||the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;|
|●||the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time;|
|●||the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD; and|
|●||certain audit committee independence requirements in Rule 10A-3 of the Exchange Act.|
We are required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of Nasdaq. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers.