Jack Ma sighted in HK as speculation swirls
As rumours swirled yesterday of big deals involving his company, Alibaba Group founder and chairman Jack Ma Yun found time to enjoy fresh sushi for lunch and contemplate watching a George Clooney movie.
Ma was spotted in Hong Kong yesterday as news spread that Alibaba's flagship e-commerce company, Hong Kong-listed Alibaba.com, could potentially be privatised.
On Thursday, Alibaba.com suspended trading of its shares in Hong Kong pending clarification about an undisclosed transaction, which it said might be price-sensitive, involving privately held parent Alibaba.
Speculation was rife that such a transaction not only referred to the Hangzhou-based group's effort to wrap up about US$3 billion in bank financing to help buy back its shares that are held by US internet company Yahoo, but also to another deal in which the mainland firm could take Alibaba.com private.
Alibaba spokesman John Spelich declined to comment. A request to interview Ma was also turned down.
A person familiar with the matter said there was no necessary link between a potential privatisation bid and the proposed Yahoo deal.
'It would be fair to say that whatever happens with the Yahoo deal is not dependent on the status of Alibaba.com,' he said.
A plain connection, however, can be made in terms of where the money for these two deals could come from. ANZ, Credit Suisse, DBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Mizuho Corporate Bank have all been identified in reports as being part of a syndicate that has been tapped to back the US$3 billion financing needed by Alibaba.
A Reuters report yesterday described a different scenario. Citing sources, the report said Alibaba would use bank loans and cash plus an asset swap to buy back about a quarter of the 40 per cent stake acquired by Yahoo in the company in 2005.
That 40 per cent shareholding by Yahoo, once the world's biggest internet search service provider, is estimated to be worth up to US$14 billion.
The report said Alibaba, which owns about 73 per cent of Alibaba. com, plans to pay a third of the consideration through a stake in one of its operating assets - making the transaction tax-free for Yahoo - and the rest, about US$6 billion, in cash.
Seated at a quiet corner of the sushi bar at a Japanese restaurant in Causeway Bay, Ma appeared in a relaxed mood, dressed down in an orange long-sleeved polo shirt, dark slacks and canvas, slip-on shoes.
While an army of lawyers, bankers and accountants were no doubt poring over his empire's potential multibillion-dollar deals, the unfazed Ma and a friend ordered sushi and then discussed which movie to see in the afternoon.
Ma was apparently interested in watching the comedy drama The Descendants, which stars George Clooney and has multiple nominations in this year's Academy Awards.
Alibaba.com shares last traded at HK$9.25.