E-commerce giant moves to sell shares in its Hong Kong unit
BEIJING -- The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said yesterday that it is moving toward a long-anticipated initial public offering, with plans to sell shares of its business-to-business unit in Hong Kong.
Alibaba, founded in 1999, has thrived amid China's export boom by helping to match foreign customers with Chinese suppliers of goods, ranging from toys to industrial raw materials.
Its success has made founder Jack Ma one of China's most prominent business celebrities.
"Alibaba has taken the first steps toward an IPO of its B-to-B business," said Porter Erisman, an Alibaba spokesman.
He declined to give any details about the planned size or timing of an IPO.
Hong Kong newspapers, citing unidentified sources, said the IPO could raise as much as $1 billion to pay for Alibaba to expand abroad.
Dow Jones Newswires said the company filed an application Friday with the Hong Kong stock exchange.
The Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao said shares could begin trading in September.
Investors have been anticipating an IPO since Yahoo Inc. paid $1 billion for 40 percent of Alibaba in August 2005. Alibaba took over running Yahoo's struggling China arm.
"Many investors are looking forward to the listing," said Dick Wei, who follows Chinese Internet companies for J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong.
Mainland Chinese companies sell shares in Hong Kong to raise money from foreign investors, who are barred from buying most shares traded on mainland exchanges.
Hong Kong is Chinese territory but is treated as a foreign economy by mainland regulators.
Alibaba accounted for more than 69 percent of China's business-to-business online trading in the first quarter of this year, according to the Beijing-based research company Analysys International.
US-based Global Sources Ltd. was number two, with 9 percent.
Alibaba's English-language website carries listings for thousands of small and mid-size Chinese manufacturers that are the heart of the country's export industries.
The company has branched out into consumer e-commerce with the launch of an auction website, Taobao.com.
Its Alibaba.com business-to-business arm is the oldest of its five divisions. Alibaba also has an online payment system, Alipay, and a software unit, Alisoft.
Ma, the company's founder, said in January that Yahoo China would be reorganized as a business-oriented search engine to help it compete against the dominant Chinese search engine, Baidu.com Inc.
Both domestic and foreign Internet companies have undergone wrenching changes to compete in China's fast-evolving market.
For example, in December, eBay Inc., which is based in San Jose, Calif., announced that it was turning over its Chinese auction website to a Beijing-based partner, Tom Online Inc., which is the main competitor to Alibaba's Taobao.