Treasures expected by opening up Alibaba through NY listing
No business represents the rapid rise of the internet in China quite like Alibaba, a company that is part eBay, part Google and part PayPal.
Alibaba is progressing with plans for one of the biggest initial public offerings since Facebook's rocky debut last year - but in New York and not in its home market.
Much is at stake for the Chinese company, and for its prospective advisers and potential investors. The offering could value Alibaba at more than $US75 billion ($80 billion), slightly bigger than eBay and more than twice as large as Yahoo. It is expected to be several orders of magnitude larger than Twitter's forthcoming public offering, already one of Wall Street's most anticipated deals.
Still, Alibaba's debut will land far away from Hong Kong, where the company had long sought to make its stock listing home. The internet giant and its executive chairman, Jack Ma, have sought to keep control of the company firmly with its founders, following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google.
But the rules of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange prohibit dual classes of stock and other types of corporate structures that let minority shareholders preserve control of companies. Talks between the two sides over a potential compromise came to a halt on Wednesday, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Now come the next steps towards a filing, which may arrive within months. Alibaba has not yet hired underwriters for the stock sale, although for months Wall Street firms have competed for a plum role.
Still others have pointed to their long-standing ties to Alibaba. Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, for example, helped the company raise $US4 billion last year.
While companies planning mammoth public offerings can command low underwriting rates - Facebook paid its banks just 1.1 per cent of the total proceeds from its stock sale - an Alibaba offering would most likely provide millions of dollars in fees. The Chinese company is expected to raise perhaps $US15 billion in its offering.
The frenzy over Alibaba highlights continued excitement over the Chinese internet space. Much of the landscape remains up for grabs, although companies like the search engine Baidu and the conglomerate Tencent have already emerged as big players.
One of the areas most poised for growth is online commerce, according to analysts, with the potential to far outstrip US online sales. Shopping in China is increasingly moving online, aided by the growth of wireless internet access and slower adaptation to modern trends by traditional physical retailers.
Alibaba has established itself as a behemoth in the business of buying and selling products online. The company is itself made up of several businesses, including Alibaba.com, a website for business-to-business sales; Taobao Marketplace, a giant eBay-like platform; and Alipay, an online payment service.
Mr Ma, a former English teacher from Hangzhou turned internet entrepreneur, founded Alibaba.com in 1999 as a platform for businesses to trade products with others. The company eventually moved onto more consumer-focused transactions through businesses like Taobao, which let individuals and small companies sell their wares online. Analysts now reckon that Taobao commands as much as 90 per cent of consumer-to-consumer sales in China. Later came Tmall.com, a more traditional business-to-consumer platform that has become one of the biggest commercial market places in China.
The company has estimated that the gross value of merchandise sold on Taobao and Tmall.com last year exceeded $163 billion. Alibaba also moved into the online payment space with Alipay, helping allay customers' concerns about the trustworthiness of sellers.
The company's growth has minted fortunes for its long-time stakeholders, including Mr Ma and Joseph C. Tsai, the former US corporate lawyer who is Alibaba's executive vice-chairman. This year, Forbes estimated Mr Ma's net worth at about $US3.4 billion, ranking him 11th in its list of Chinese billionaires.