Alibaba Abandons Hong Kong IPO And Looks To U.S. Exchanges
Despite weeks of discussions, Alibaba, China’s largest retail platform for businesses and consumers, failed to reach an agreement last week with Hong Kong’s stock exchange over a listing, thereby opening the door to a possible listing on either the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange. The company is unlikely to file its S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission before year’s end, with a 2014 filing more likely. According to John Spelich, a spokesman for Alibaba, the company has no definitive timetable for an IPO. He also noted that the company hasn’t hired investment bankers yet and hasn’t really made a decision about where to go public.
If the company decides to go public in the U.S., it could face the same problems it had with the Hong Kong Exchange. Unlike the stock markets in the U.S., Hong Kong does not allow companies to issue two classes of shares. What Alibaba has been seeking in Hong Kong is for shareholders to have no power over directors or the board of the company. This would effectively leave founder Jack Ma in control of the company in perpetuity, with him having the only say over the board. The company also does not want shareholders to have any type of monitoring capabilities.
If, in fact, this is what Alibaba is seeking, they will have to compromise significantly in order to list in the U.S. Here, equity shareholders have the power to nominate or dispose of directors. Under Alibaba’s favored arrangement, investors would not possess these rights, leaving them with no operative monitoring role. The dual-class voting structure is common in the U.S., used by technology firms such as Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), when they went public. The system allowed the senior management to hang on to control of the companies while they milked the market for more funds.
On another note, the company announced that it plans to make large investments in logistics and support in order to help revolutionize China’s gigantic retail industry. The group has earmarked $16 billion to be used for the project by the year 2020 in the hopes of opening up the country’s interior and bring access to millions of new consumers. Alibaba wants to triple the volume of transactions on its online marketplace to around $490 billion by 2016. It will then overtake retail leviathan Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) as the world’s largest retailer.
Alibaba’s expected initial public offering sets up another battle between the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market for the high profile listing. Each is currently vying for the Twitter IPO, and the cachet it brings with it. Alibaba will have the same appeal to investors that Twitter has, if not more.
In the end, whatever market the company decides to list with, you can bet that the structure will favor Mr. Ma and company over investors. As Ma has already said, shareholder’s rights rank towards the bottom of the company’s worries. Interesting.
Disclosure: The author has no position in the stocks mentioned in this article, and does not intend to initiate any position in the next 48 hours.
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