By Melanie Lee
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's largest business-to-consumer website 360buy.com said on Friday it has raised a whopping $1.5 billion from a diverse group of investors in its latest round of financing, in preparation for an initial public offering in 2013.
360buy's latest fundraising comes at a boom time in China's e-commerce industry that is set to grow at high double digit rates over the next two years, as rising incomes across China boost consumer spending and the number of Internet users soar.
360buy, which sells branded electronics goods online, said Russian Internet investment group Digital Sky Technologies had put in $500 million. News of DST's investment was first reported by the Financial Times.
DST has invested in social networking website Facebook and discount-buying website Groupon.
"With regard to the rapid development of 360buy and China's e-commerce industry, this round of fundraising will have a very meaningful impact on that," Liu Qiangdong, chief executive of 360buy, said in a statement.
360buy said that Tiger Fund had also invested in the firm. In December, 360buy confirmed that it had secured $500 million in funding from six strategic partners including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The company has received $1.1 billion of the funds.
360buy made 11.4 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) in sales in 2010, estimated Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
China's e-commerce industry handled 520 billion yuan ($79 billion) in transactions in 2010, with about 30 percent of the country's 450 million strong Internet users transacting over the Web. Taobao is the leading e-commerce platform in China with more than 70 percent of the market by transaction value.
"It's still at a very fast growth stage. With more investment it is getting more competitive and we are going to see more development of new business models," said Hong Kong-based JPMorgan analyst Dick Wei.
RUSH FOR GOLD
The soaring number of Chinese Internet users coupled with rising incomes has whet investor appetite for Chinese Internet companies such as Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings.
Shares of recently listed Qihoo 360 Technology soared in their debut on Thursday, more than doubling its IPO price of $14.50.
Qihoo's $176 million IPO comes on the heels of a rush of similar Chinese Internet companies in the fourth quarter, such as online video company Youku.com Inc and Internet retailer E Commerce China Dangdang Inc.
The shares of both companies also soared in their NYSE debuts in December, rising 161 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Youku has since risen another 34 percent, while Dangdang erased some gains to trade 39 percent above the IPO price.
Wei said the large investment into 360buy could bring competitive pressure to Dangdang and Taobao. On Thursday, Baidu said it will shut its online e-commerce store Youa and migrate users to other platforms.
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)