Huge demand swells Alibaba's value

Chinese e-commerce firm's debut as publicly traded company on NYSE sees its stock rising nearly 40 percent on first day.

    Friday's IPO of Alibaba shares on the New York Stock Exchange was on track to be the world's largest [AFP]
    Friday's IPO of Alibaba shares on the New York Stock Exchange was on track to be the world's largest [AFP]

    Alibaba has debuted as a publicly traded company and quickly risen nearly 40 percent in an initial public offering, or IPO, that offered investors a way to tap into the prosperous Chinese middle class.

    The initial public offering of the e-commerce company is on track to be the world's largest, with the possibility of raising as much as $25bn.

    The sharp demand for Alibaba shares sent the market value on Friday well beyond that of Amazon, eBay and even Facebook.

    Jack Ma, Alibaba's chief executive officer, stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as eight Alibaba customers, including an American cherry farmer and a Chinese Olympian, rang the opening bell.

    If all of its underwriters' options are exercised, Alibaba would top the all-time IPO fund-raising record of $22.1bn set by the Agricultural Bank of China Ltd in 2010.

    Alibaba's online ecosystem stands apart from most e-commerce rivals because it does not sell anything directly, preferring to connect individuals and small businesses.

    It enjoyed a surge in US popularity over the past two weeks as executives made sales pitches based on Alibaba's strong revenue and big ambitions.

    Stock's attractiveness

    Some institutional investors, such as banks or hedge funds, were able to buy the stock at $68 per share, the amount set on Thursday evening.

    Most other investors had to wait until shares started trading publicly, which meant paying a much higher price after adjustments for demand.

    Alibaba's Taobao, TMall and other platforms account for some 80 percent of Chinese online commerce.

    Most of the company's 279 million active buyers visit the sites at least once a month on smartphones and other mobile devices, adding to the stock's attractiveness as online shopping shifts away from laptop and desktop machines.

    Online spending by Chinese shoppers is forecast to triple from its 2011 size by 2015. Beyond that, Alibaba has said it plans to expand into emerging markets and, eventually, into Europe and the US.

    Alibaba does not compete with its merchants or hold inventory, serving instead as a conduit that links buyers and sellers of all kinds.

    Yet the track record for Chinese stocks in general does not inspire confidence. Over the last two decades, they have earned a reputation for burning investors in both the US and China.

    Many of those that do post gains fail to keep pace with inflation. Returns have been depressed by a range of factors, including fraud allegations, questionable accounting and cumbersome regulations.

    Company's genesis

    Alibaba's revenue from the quarter ending in June surged 46 percent from last year to $2.54bn. Its earnings climbed 60 percent to nearly $1.2bn, after subtracting a one-time gain and certain other items.

    In its last fiscal year ending on March 31, Alibaba earned $3.7bn, making it more profitable than eBay Inc and Inc combined.

    Based in Ma's hometown of Hangzhou in eastern China, Alibaba began in 1999 when Ma and 17 friends developed a fledgeling e-commerce business on the cusp of the Internet boom.

    Today, its main platforms are its original business-to-business service,, consumer-to-consumer site Taobao and TMall, a place for brands to sell to consumers.

    Alibaba offered 320.1 million shares for a total offering size of $21.77bn. Underwriters have a 30-day option to buy up to 48 million more shares.

    Trading under the ticker BABA, Alibaba's shares opened at $92.70 and hit nearly $100 within hours on Friday. By the end of the day, the stock rose $25.89, or 38 percent, to close at $93.89.

    Friday's closing price gave the company a value of $231.44bn compared with $150bn for Amazon and $67bn for eBay.

    The IPO easily eclipsed the $16bn Facebook raised in 2012, the most for a technology IPO.



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