Business / Technology

Domestic investors gripe at being left out of Alibaba IPO

(Agencies) Updated: 2014-09-22 03:49

Zhou Nushi, a retired factory worker in Shanghai, would like to buy shares of Alibaba Group Holding Inc as the Chinese e-commerce company goes public in what may be the biggest initial share sale ever.

The trouble is she can't. Like most Chinese, she doesn't have the financial resources and extensive qualifications necessary to invest in securities listed outside the mainland. Alibaba, based in Hangzhou, is listing its stock in the United States.

"I'm a little confused about why you can't invest in a Chinese company if you're Chinese," says Zhou, clad in gray shorts as she passes time in front of the digital stock ticker at a local branch of Guotai Junan Securities Co in Shanghai.

Though Chinese consumers have driven Alibaba's financial success, they'll largely be left out of the company's stock offering. Mainland investors can't purchase overseas equities directly due to government restrictions and only the wealthiest can buy them indirectly through qualified investor programs.

Alibaba, which started marketing its stock in Asia last week, generated so much interest that it plans to increase the size of its IPO, people familiar with the matter said. One of the people predicted last week the top end of the marketed price range could be bumped to above $70 a share. Alibaba was previously marketing the shares at $66 to $68.

At $70 per share or if Alibaba sells more shares than originally planned, its offering could be the largest ever globally. Agricultural Bank of China Ltd raised $22.1 billion in sales in both Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2010.

The inability of mainland investors to buy into such an historic IPO may lead to change. Mao Sheng, an analyst at Huaxi Securities Co in Chengdu, said it's regrettable local investors can't buy into the deal and that may push the government to accelerate reform of its IPO system.

"IPO reform takes time," said Mao. "The government takes the development of the capital market very seriously, so it will improve."

The China Securities Regulatory Commission has said it's preparing to move toward an American-style IPO registration system and may announce a plan by the end of the year. The CSRC didn't respond to a faxed request for comment.

"The review process is more efficient in the US," says Hao Hong, a Hong Kong-based strategist at Bocom International Holdings Co. "Listing in the US also commands prestige in the mainland."

Some funds have been set up for investors looking to tap into Alibaba. Harvest Fund Management Co, one of China's oldest and largest asset managers, has started Harvest Opportunities Target Fund 1 to give Chinese investors access to the Alibaba IPO.

"It's not one fund but a range of funds that allow our mainland clients to buy shares of Alibaba," Lindsay Wright, co- CEO of Harvest Capital Management Co Ltd, the Beijing-based subsidiary of Harvest Fund, said in a phone interview.

Chinese investors can purchase foreign securities indirectly through what's known as a Qualified Domestic Institutional Investor program. Such funds are run by asset managers who give broad guidelines of what they plan to invest in and then choose specific stocks.

Just a month after bullish bets on Tencent Holdings Ltd climbed to a record, options traders are reversing their wager as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd does what will probably be the biggest-ever US listing.

Tencent, a Chinese provider of instant-messaging services and games, is set to be dethroned as Asia's largest Internet company once Alibaba completes its initial public offering. Alibaba's IPO may help Tencent once it starts trading by spurring demand for Internet shares, according to Benjamin Tam, a Hong Kong-based portfolio manager who helps oversee about $1.5 billion at IG Investment Ltd.

Hot Topics

Editor's Picks