Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Alibaba moves closer to an IPO


Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group (阿里巴巴集團) said yesterday it is moving toward a long-anticipated initial public offering (IPO), with plans to sell shares in 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 and Chinese suppliers of goods ranging from toys to industrial raw materials. Its success has made founder Jack Ma (馬雲) 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 of the size or timing of an IPO.

Hong Kong newspapers, citing unidentified sources, said the IPO could raise as much as US$1 billion to pay for Alibaba to expand abroad. Dow Jones Newswires said the company filed an application on Friday with the Hong Kong stock exchange. Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao said shares could begin trading in September.

Investors have been anticipating an IPO since Yahoo Inc paid US$1 billion for 40 percent of Alibaba in August 2005 and Alibaba took over 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.

Chinese companies sell shares in Hong Kong to raise money from foreign investors, who are barred from buying most shares traded on mainland exchanges.

Alibaba accounted for more than 69 percent of China's business-to-business online trading in the first quarter of this year, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. US-based Global Sources Ltd was in second place with 9 percent.

Alibaba's English-language Web site carries listings for thousands of small and medium-size Chinese manufacturers that are at the heart of the country's export industries.

The company has branched out into consumer e-commerce with the launch of an auction Web site, Taobao.com (淘寶網).

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, announced in January that Yahoo China would be reorganized as a business-oriented search engine to help it compete with dominant Chinese search engine Baidu.com Inc (百度).

Domestic and foreign Internet companies have both undergone wrenching changes to compete in China's fast-evolving market.

In December, US-based eBay Inc announced it was turning over its Chinese auction Web site to a Beijing-based partner, Tom Online Inc, the main competitor for Alibaba's Taobao.

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