Alibaba unveils Hong Kong secondary listing plan, in vote of confidence that pushes city back to top of global IPO ranking

Enoch Yiu

Alibaba Group Holding, the record holder of the largest global initial public offering, has unveiled a secondary listing plan in Hong Kong, in a vote of confidence for the local financial market as the worst political crisis in the city’s history threatens its status as a global financial centre.

The e-commerce giant aims to sell 500 million new shares, with 487.5 million set aside for international offering and the rest for Hong Kong public, according to a filing in New York. The plan includes an option to sell an extra 75 million shares subject to demand. Alibaba may raise between US$10 billion and US$15 billion from the sale, after the Hong Kong stock exchange approved its secondary listing, people familiar with the matter said.

The plan will give a major boost for the city gripped by more than five months of anti-government protests and a simmering US-China trade war, pushing the local stock exchange on a home run for global IPO crown this year in competition with the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.

Alibaba has been working on a plan to list its shares in Hong Kong – what the company calls its “natural first choice” – since it abandoned the local market for New York in 2014, according to people familiar with the matter. Part of the motivation is to give its army of online shopping customers in mainland China and elsewhere in Asia the opportunity to own its shares.

Alibaba, which raised a record US$25 billion in 2014 in New York, will retain its US listing, the people said, because of its deep capital markets while the group taps into the growing pool of funds in Asia with its latest plan.

The company, whose businesses encompass big data, financial services, e-commerce, cloud computing, is the owner of South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, who pushed for the regulatory reforms last year to woo technology start-ups and pre-revenue biotech firms, said Alibaba’s secondary listing is “a testimony of Hong Kong’s status as a premier listing platform.”

“The tension between the US and China in the areas of trade and technology has added to the attractiveness of Hong Kong as an international listing platform for mainland tech companies,” Chan said in response to queries by the Post before the filing. “We strive to become the preferred listing platform for companies in the innovative and technology sector.”

The green light clears the path for Hangzhou-based Alibaba to start a weeklong roadshow this week to drum up interest from institutional and retail investors, in a bookbuilding exercise. The shares in international offering are expected to be price on November 20 or no later than November 25, according to the SEC filing. They will begin trading in Hong Kong on November 26. Cornerstone investors, a unique feature of Hong Kong’s financial market where large investors are invited to anchor important public offerings, will be absent because the shares are so much in demand, according to people familiar with the plan. Key executives and SoftBank have agreed to a 90-day lock up on their stakes under the listing plan. Every eight newly issued shares in Hong Kong will be equal to one American Depositary Share traded in New York, the SEC filing shows. Based on the ADS closing price of US$186.97 on November 12, it could raise between US$11.63 billion and US$13.37 billion in Hong Kong, Alibaba said. The secondary listing in Hong Kong would swell the market value of Asia’s biggest company, and rank it the biggest offerings in Hong Kong in almost a decade. At the top end of US$15 billion, the deal would be the largest after insurance group AIA’s HK$159 billion IPO in 2010 and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s HK$124.95 billion deal in 2006.

Alibaba quarterly revenue jumps ahead of Singles’ Day shopping festival

Fundraising returned to Hong Kong since September as stocks rebounded from their worst quarter in four years. Dozens of companies including Budweiser Brewing Company APAC and ESR Cayman have raised a combined US$11.53 billion. Alibaba’s plan, even at the lower end of the range of US$10 billion, will catapult Hong Kong to the summit of global IPO league this year.

A Hong Kong listing may also finally give mainland China’s investors the chance to participate in the growth of one of the country’s most profitable technology giants, should China add Alibaba to its Stock Connect programme in the coming months, sources said.

Some of the nation’s technology companies have produced big gains for onshore traders this year. Tencent has risen 3.8 per cent, Sunny Optical rallied 76 per cent and Meituan Dianping soared 117 per cent. Xiaomi Corp, though, has lost 34 per cent.

“The secondary listing will give Hong Kong investors, and even traders in mainland China, a chance to invest in the company, via the Stock Connect scheme in future,” said Gordon Tsui Luen-on, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Association. “It also reflects a vote of confidence for Hong Kong’s stock market after the city’s economy fell into a technical recession last quarter,” he said.

Alibaba, which listed in New York in 2014 at US$68 per share, jumped to a peak of US$210.86 in June last year, and closed at US$186.97 on Tuesday, giving it a market value of US$486.8 billion. That makes it the largest company in Asia, and the seventh biggest globally after Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon.com, Facebook and Berkshire Hathaway, according to Bloomberg’s data.

China International Capital Corporation and Credit Suisse, the lead arrangers of Alibaba’s secondary offering, are roping in other banks including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley to form a syndicate to help underwrite the share sale, according to brokers familiar with the matter.

Analysis: Here’s why Alibaba is returning to Hong Kong’s market in a secondary listing

Many Hong Kong stockbrokers told the Post that they have prepared funding and workforce to handle what would be expected to be the largest deal in a decade. In anticipation, demand for Hong Kong dollars has pushed up the cost of short-term borrowings this week through Wednesday.

The one-week Hong Kong interbank offered rates, or Hibor, has climbed 128 basis points to 2.56929 per cent while two-week Hibor advanced 113 basis points to 2.64393 per cent, according to the Hong Kong Association of Banks.

“It is going to be a hot deal,” said Jojo Choy Sze-chung, vice-chairman of the Institute of Securities Dealers. “Alibaba already has several good e-commerce platforms and other profitable businesses. It should not be a problem for the company to raise up to US$15 billion.”

Alibaba’s impending listing in Hong Kong will follow the conclusion of its 2019 Singles’ Day online shopping gala, when a record US$38.38 billion of merchandise were sold in the 24-hour shopping spree. American pop diva Taylor Swift headlined this year’s shopping festival with a curtain-raiser showpiece in Shanghai.

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