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Alibaba listing switch could chill HK market

By Oswald Chan in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-10 07:00

Alibaba listing switch could chill HK market

Financial analysts in Hong Kong said on Monday that the city's initial public offering market may go into virtual hibernation for the rest of the year if the mainland's top e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding, scraps its $60 billion plan to list.

A report in Monday's edition of the Financial Times said that Alibaba's founder Jack Ma and other top executives may abandon the Hong Kong IPO plan because the city's listing rules ban dual-class shares, which give top management officials more voting power.

The report added that Alibaba may switch the listing venue to New York, where such a corporate structure is allowed.

A spokesman from Alibaba's Hong Kong office told China Daily: "The company has still not set its IPO timetable, has not decided on the IPO listing venue and also has not appointed any IPO underwriter."

Hong Kong listing rules emphasize the principle that any corporate structure has to give fair treatment to all shareholders, which conflicts with the goal of Alibaba's top management to maintain board control through dual-class shares.

Alibaba maintains that it needs to retain the stability and independence in its management to change business direction quickly in the face of rapid technological developments and make long-term bets that could bring very large returns.

That managerial flexibility has to be maintained by the dual-class shares, which allow top managers to nominate the majority of board of directors.

Alibaba is run by the Alibaba Partnership, which is controlled by 20 executives in charge of daily operations.

If Alibaba halts its listing plan in Hong Kong, the city may lose the biggest IPO since the pan-Asian insurance group American International Assurance listing in 2010.

"Alibaba's decision will affect the city's IPO market performance in 2013, as the number and value of deals surely will decline in 2013 compared with 2012, if there is no Alibaba listing," First Shanghai Securities Chief Strategist Linus Yip said.

"I am not optimistic about the Hong Kong IPO market because fewer business conglomerates have listed or will seek listings in the local IPO market," Kingston Securities Director Dickie Wong said. "I predict the Hong Kong IPO market cannot retain its top three position in 2013, regarding fundraising amounts."

According to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd data, the number of new listings in the first eight months slumped 24.5 percent to 37, raising HK$44.9 billion ($5.78 billion), which was flat with a year earlier.

After reigning as global IPO hub for several years, the city had $7.72 billion worth of deals in 2012, the lowest volume since 2008 global financial meltdown, according to Reuters data.

Despite the lackluster condition of the city's IPO market, Yip said that the market may revive by year-end. "With the gradual recovery of the mainland and US economies, the local IPO market is poised to recover. In particular, we anticipate more IPOs by Internet and information technology companies if the Alibaba listing finally gets through," Yip added.

Accounting advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated there will be 70 to 80 IPOs this year with total fundraising of HK$120 billion to HK$150 billion, which would put Hong Kong in third place globally.

Financial services, retail, consumer goods and services, property-related, technology, pharmaceutical and energy and mining are expected to top the industry listings.

"There are still ample funds in the market, and the IPO pipeline remains strong, as many companies are preparing their IPO filings. The fundraising market is likely to gradually improve when market sentiment is expected to revive markedly in the third or fourth quarter, which will create a more favorable environment for medium- to mega-sized IPOs," said Edmond Chan, PwC Hong Kong capital market services group partner.

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