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January 28, 2021 1:15 PM, EST

Chinese Trucking Startup Full Truck Alliance Eyes $1 Billion US IPO

A truck loaded with a shipping container drives through the Port of Oakland in September 2019. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Uber-like Chinese startup Full Truck Alliance is preparing for a U.S. initial public offering that could raise at least $1 billion as soon as this year, after eking out a slim 2020 profit thanks to a pandemic-era shipping surge.

The startup backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd. is working with Morgan Stanley and China International Capital Corp. on its American debut, people familiar with the matter said. The talks are preliminary and details could still change but the company aims to raise $1 billion to $2 billion, they said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

China’s economy roared back to pre-pandemic growth rates in the fourth quarter after its industrial engines fired up to meet surging demand for exports. That boom is straining a domestic logistics network already taxed by a COVID-19 resurgence in e-commerce.

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That helped the company, known also as Manbang, post a profit of about 135 million yuan ($21 million) last year, reversing a 735 million yuan loss in 2019, the people said. It expanded sales 13% to 2.5 billion yuan. Those figures are preliminary and haven’t been audited and could be subject to change after adjustment, they added.

“We do not have concrete IPO plans at the moment, and the information you cite about our company is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading,” the company said in a statement in response to Bloomberg News’s queries. Representatives for Morgan Stanley and CICC declined to comment.

Manbang, backed by SoftBank Group Corp., faces stiffening competition as smaller rivals try to win a slice of an evolving market. Tech giants from car-hailing leader Didi Chuxing to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. are now introducing technology to try and streamline the shipping process, connecting merchants with truckers and delivery firms.

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Formed by a merger between China’s two largest truck-sharing platforms — Huochebang and Yunmanman — Manbang has attracted a big roster of backers including Alphabet Inc.’s CapitalG, Sequoia Capital China, Fidelity International and Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital. Manbang last raised $1.7 billion from investors including SoftBank and Tencent Holdings Ltd. at a $12 billion valuation. It aimed to use the cash to expand into same-city deliveries, deepening a network now focused on ferrying goods between urban centers.

One of the biggest startups in SoftBank’s global portfolio, the Chinese company operates a marketplace that connects millions of mostly independent truckers with merchants that require shipping. It makes money by charging a fee when brokering transactions, and from servicing drivers by selling top-up toll cards and directing them to service stations. It also helps independent truckers issue receipts to customers.

Fierce competition may be taking a toll. Sales of trucking-related services such as top-up cards and gas fell 21% to about 519 million yuan, and now account for just a fifth of revenue from 29% in 2019, according to the people. Manbang in fact derived most of its revenue in 2020 from the sideline business of helping independent truckers draft and issue receipts to cargo merchants. Its main business of membership fees only accounted for 22% of turnover, while commissions contributed a mere 0.6%, the people said.

Lulu Yilun Chen, Vinicy Chan and Manuel Baigorri were the primary contributors to this report.

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