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Founder talks of IPO and beyond for Alibaba

By Chen Jia in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-08 11:15

China's biggest e-commerce company, privately held Alibaba Group, has become the most profitable Internet company in the country, as the company is considering going public and will continue to invest heavily in mobile technology.

Alibaba said on Tuesday that its net profit in the four quarter was $640 million on revenue of $1.84 billion. Net profit was 172 percent higher than the same period of the previous year while revenue growth was 80 percent.

The $6.4 billion profit beat Tencent Holdings Ltd's $550 million in the same period to become the most profitable Internet company in China.

Company founder and chairman Jack Ma said in a speech at Stanford University over the weekend that he doesn't care where or when an initial public offering is conducted for his e-commerce empire, which saw total transactions of more than 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) last year. What he cares about most is whether an IPO will help the company sustain growth and benefit shareholders.

The 49-year-old Ma, known for eloquence and wit, compared the IPO to a wedding and said it is more important to think about married life after the ceremony.

"If an IPO is a wedding, Alibaba is more concerned about the marriage after. The result that we don't expect to see is the marriage becoming the grave of love," he said.

Alibaba Group owns China's largest business-to-business website, the online retail platform Taobao, and a PayPal-style online payment service, AliPay, among other services.

By itself, Taobao - a platform akin to eBay on which a variety of retailers sell products and services to consumers and small businesses - recorded transactions of more than 1 trillion yuan in 2012.

Yahoo Inc has a 23 percent stake in Alibaba after reducing its holding from 40 percent for $7.1 billion last year.

With explosive growth and huge potential in online retail in the world's most populous country and No 2 economy, an Alibaba IPO would be regarded as one of the biggest in the technology industry, and international and Chinese investment banks are vying to underwrite an offering.

Stock exchanges are also trying to attract the Internet giant. had traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange but delisted last year.

Various investment banks have valued Alibaba at $40 billion to more than $100 billion. According to a survey by Bloomberg News of eight investment banks, the latest valuation is about $62.5 billion, based on 84 times the company's profit-to-earnings ratio.

Ma also said his company is an industry trend-setter and will continue to invest in operations.

Last week, Alibaba paid $586 million for 18 percent of Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging site with over 400 million users, and has an option to increase the stake to 40 percent.

The company has acquired many smaller Internet companies in businesses tied to Internet search software, group-buying deals, online coupons and even an online taxi-reservation service to build its mobile Internet portfolio.

"The mobile phone will become the device of data consumption and is changing people's lifestyles," Ma said at Stanford. "If the PC has changed the way we work and produce, the wireless Internet is a revolution in lifestyle, and China will see revolutionary changes with wireless Internet."

He said Alibaba will invest more in infrastructure including "big data", unlike its main domestic competitor Tencent. Hong Kong-listed Tencent is the third-most-valuable Internet company in the world, after Google Inc and Inc, and is investing in Internet applications.

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