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Alibaba to be back pushing its share offering in city

Jack Ma expected to join company's big guns in promoting its float and future prospect Alipay

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:21am

Hong Kong may been snubbed by Alibaba Group Holding for its huge initial public offering, but the mainland e-commerce giant will be knocking on doors in the city soon. This time, it will be during a two-week roadshow this month to promote the share sale, expected to raise more than US$20 billion in New York.

Hong Kong clearly matters to chairman Jack Ma Yun, and the other Alibaba heavyweights expect him to join the investor pitches. They clearly value the deep liquidity the market has to offer - boosted by deep-pocketed mainland funds - and its ability to swallow big transactions.

Beside the financial allure of the city - whose market regulators would not accept Alibaba's controversial partnership structure for its listing - a recent transaction also points to the city's importance.

Alibaba sold its lending unit to Alibaba-controlled Small and Micro Financial Services, the parent firm of Alipay. The payment services firm handles almost 80 per cent of transactions on Alibaba platforms.

Alipay, one of the crown jewels in the Alibaba empire, could be an ideal candidate to list in Hong Kong as the city's exchange begins a new consultation about its listing rules. Depending on the outcome of the review, this could prove favourable to an Alipay float.

As for the Alibaba offering, Jeffrey Kang Jingwei, the chairman of e-commerce firm Cogobuy Group, told IPO Watch the marketing of a deal as large Alibaba's was likely to be focused mainly on investors in Hong Kong and the east coast of the US.

Alibaba, in an earlier statement explaining its decision to opt for a US listing, has hinted that it could list other assets in the China market if the conditions allow. Thus the attention on Alipay.

"Alipay and the financial units would not take place in the IPO because they are not yet mature," Alibaba chief executive Jonathan Lu Zhaoxi said earlier.

Admittedly, it has never been an easy task to figure out how to value Alibaba properly by conventional metrics nor what the firm wants from the financial market besides capital to buy back its shares from its largest stakeholders Yahoo and Japan's Softbank Corp. But Ma definitely has the charm to woo Hong Kong regulators and investors.

His rags-to-riches story is appealing. He started his internet company in a flat in Hangzhou in 1999 and then turned it into a number of profitable units, including popular shopping sites Taobao and Tmall.

The offering, with its market pitch to start on September 8 at the earliest, will also provide an opportunity to test the sentiment of Hong Kong investors towards Alibaba. Many were far from impressed when the group's Alibaba.com - which listed in Hong Kong in 2007 - delisted after a short-lived surge in the share price.

ray.utchan@scmp.com