The short-form video platform TikTok has built up legions of heavy followers. The G42 buy into the parent company, ByteDance, comes as the Chinese economy reopens in full to the world after the pandemic. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Abu Dhabi: TikTok's owner ByteDance Ltd. was valued at around $220 billion after a private-market investment by Abu Dhabi AI firm G42 - a significant discount to the $300 billion set during a recent share buyback program.

G42 has acquired a $100 million plus stake from existing investors in recent months through its 42XFund. Another fund bought into ByteDance at a $225 billion shortly after.

The Chinese internet firm's gyrating price tag reflects the uncertainty that's set in since Washington signaled it may be open to outlawing viral video phenom TikTok, which US lawmakers have accused of being a national security threat. TikTok's leadership is discussing the possibility of separating from its Chinese parent to help address those concerns, though that's a last resort.

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Value dip

ByteDance's valuation in the G42 transaction doesn't yet reflect potential after-effects of the Silicon Valley Bank implosion, which stunned startups from the US to China and has raised concerns about broader systemic risks. It remains well off a peak of around $460 billion in 2021 when Tiger Global Management bought shares.

G42's interests run from from cloud computing to vaccines and driverless cars.  The Middle Eastern firm may be betting on ByteDance's longer term potential, as a rebounding Chinese economy buttresses tech giants emerging from three years of Covid restrictions and endless regulatory crackdowns.

Growing enthusiasm for AI since ChatGPT's sensational public rollout could also benefit ByteDance, which pioneered algorithms a decade ago to get users hooked on videos and news. Representatives for 42XFund declined to comment. A ByteDance spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the longer term, some investors believe that parts of China's embattled tech sector may finally get back on track for growth, despite lingering suspicion about Beijing's intentions for the private sector. Xi Jinping's government has since last year repeatedly reassured investors and entrepreneurs alike about its pro-business stance.

$ 12 b

What TikTok generated as revenue in 2022

A big hit worldwide

ByteDance, which gained a foothold in the US by buying TikTok's predecessor, is one of a handful of Chinese app developers to have hit the big time abroad. That select club includes upstarts like fast-fashion purveyor Shein Group, AliExpress and PDD Holdings Inc.'s bargains app Temu.

ByteDance's marquee service drew advertisers keen on hitting a more youthful demographic. And it's craved out a niche selling goods to millions of social media users via livestreams across the world.

Washington brings on the pressure

That popularity spooked some in Washington. The White House endorsed a bipartisan bill last week that could grant the president authority to ban or force a sale of TikTok - which could deal a major blow to the Chinese firm's international ambitions.

A ByteDance IPO - the company explored options including Hong Kong and the US - remains a ways off, given global market volatility. In September last year, the Beijing company offered to buy back $3 billion of its own shares at a valuation of about $300 billion, offering a way existing backers such as Susquehanna International Group and Sequoia Capital to cash in some of their gains.

ByteDance, which is also backed by SoftBank Group Corp. and Temasek Holdings Pte, isn't in urgent need of cash after TikTok alone generated an estimated $12 billion of revenue in 2022.