Alibaba to steal a march with US debut

E-commerce giant is expected to rank among the largest ever initial public offerings, raising as much as $15 billion

The Alibaba  app logo  displayed on an iPhone. The e-commerce giant is expected to rank among the largest ever initial public offerings.  Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The Alibaba app logo displayed on an iPhone. The e-commerce giant is expected to rank among the largest ever initial public offerings. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 01:00

The Chinese internet giant Alibaba, which we’ve spoken of many times in Asia Briefing, will make its market debut in the US, and not in Hong Kong as had been expected.

The e-commerce giant is expected to rank among the largest ever initial public offerings, raising as much as $15 billion (€10.9 billion), which puts it just shy of Facebook, whose 2012 IPO was the third-largest at $16 billion (€11.6 billion).

In contrast to Facebook and its tech ilk, Alibaba, which is basically a mixture of Amazon and eBay, will come the market as a tremendously profitable company.

So where did Hong Kong go wrong, losing the chance to host such a big Chinese listing?

The Hong Kong stock exchange regulators had a problem with Alibaba’s shareholding structure, which gives senior managers sway over board appointments.

After a year of talking to the Hong Kong regulators, apparently Joe Tsai, the Alibaba executive in charge of arranging the IPO, thought that the consultation process of reviewing local listing rules was taking far too long.

And the fact that so many of Alibaba’s rivals are opting for US listings won’t have helped.

“We respect the viewpoints and policies of Hong Kong and will continue to pay close attention to and support the process of innovation and development of Hong Kong,” the group said.

However, choosing to take the US route would “make us a more global company and enhance the company’s transparency, as well as allow the company to continue to pursue our long-term vision and ideals”.

Next questions to be answered are: when will the IPO take place, which banks will underwrite it and will it be the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq?

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