Business E-Commerce

Alibaba Picks NYSE, Plays with Yahoo, Football

alibabaIt’s been two weeks since I’ve written a post exclusively about leading e-commerce company Alibaba, so I thought I’d end the week with a round-up of a few company news bits including its selection of the New York Stock Exchange for its highly-anticipated IPO. In related news, the company’s major shareholder Yahoo is reportedly in talks to reduce its planned sale of Alibaba shares in the offering. Last but not least, Alibaba has formally added its name to one of its latest acquisitions, a stake in one of China’s leading soccer clubs.

None of these news bits is particularly big, but I do feel a need to write something about this company that will make one of the biggest Internet IPOs in history, most likely in July or August. The company could raise up to $20 billion, which would eclipse the previous biggest Internet IPO that came when Facebook raised $16 billion two years ago. Alibaba is likely to get a market value of up to $170 billion from the listing, which is why everyone is trying to get a piece of the action.

Both of New York’s main stock exchanges were aggressively courting the company, following its decision early this year to abandon its preference for a listing in Hong Kong. Now we’re learning that the NYSE has officially won the deal. The decision was disclosed in Alibaba’s latest IPO filing, which added that the stock will trade under the ticker BABA.

The NYSE’s victory isn’t too surprising, as it has aggressively courted Chinese tech companies for much of the last few years. Many of China’s earliest tech firms to list in New York went to the Nasdaq, including leading web portal Sina and top search engine Baidu. But of the more than a dozen companies to list since the fourth quarter of last year, the split between the NYSE and Nasdaq has been about 50-50. The win is obviously a big one for the NYSE, which is trying to rival the Nasdaq as a place for high-tech companies with big growth potential.

Alibaba may have been talking publicly about its decision to list on the NYSE, but it’s also reportedly talking behind the scenes with Yahoo, which will sell a big chunk of its stake in Alibaba during the IPO. Yahoo was once Alibaba’s largest single shareholder after buying 40 percent of the company in 2005. But Yahoo sold a big piece of its stake in 2012 and now holds about 24 percent.  Yahoo was planning to further sell down its stake during the IPO, providing most or all of the shares to be sold during the public offering.

Yahoo had previously planned to sell about half of its remaining stake, but media reported late last year that it changed its mind and wanted to sell a smaller amount. Now the latest reports are saying that Yahoo is talking with Alibaba as it seeks to renegotiate the size of its actual stake sale during the IPO. If Alibaba agrees, it could reduce the size of the offering to the $10-$15 billion range. Perhaps that’s what Alibaba would like, since a reduced offering could create excitement due to a smaller number of shares for sale.

Lastly let’s look quickly at reports that say Alibaba has decided to add its Taobao name to one of China’s top soccer teams, after the company agreed last month to purchase up to half of the Guangzhou club for up to $190 million. Thus the team will now become Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao in the next season.

Probably the most interesting thing about this news is Alibaba’s choice of which of its brands to use, since it could have picked a number of other titles, including its Alibaba name or Tmall, the name of its leading B2C online shopping mall. The choice of Taobao indicates that Alibaba perhaps feels it faces the biggest potential competition for the C2C e-commerce site, which is facing a new assault from a partnership between archrivals JD.com and Tencent.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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