No Chinese New Year hongbao for Alibaba staff because 2014 was not 'exceptional': Jack Ma

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, speaking to the media after a forum in Hong Kong, China, on Feb 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, speaking to the media after a forum in Hong Kong, China, on Feb 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - Internet tycoon Jack Ma has said his employees will not receive the traditional Chinese New Year hongbao because 2014 had not been "exceptional" for the company, despite its world-beating IPO listing on Wall Street.

Chinese bosses ordinarily hand out hongbao - red envelopes filled with cash - to staff ahead of the week-long holiday to wish them luck for the year ahead.

Chinese New Year begins on February 19 and will usher in the Year of the Sheep, while waving goodbye to the Year of the Horse.

Although Alibaba employees will still receive a bonus, they will not take home the traditional symbol of prosperity due to the lack of any "particularly stunning" results, Ma said.

"There will be no distribution of red envelopes for the simple reason that Alibaba has not had exceptional results and that we haven't seen anything particularly stunning," China's richest man said in a message published Friday on a local social network.

"The IPO success was nothing surprising, but simply the fruits of the dogged work by Alibaba staff over 15 years," Ma said. "Apart from this IPO we could not say objectively that we have been overjoyed with the year just gone."

The letter will raise eyebrows as 2014 was widely viewed as a blockbuster year for the firm, with its US$25 billion (S$31.26 billion) listing on the New York Stock Exchange in September propelling Ma to the top of China's rich list overnight.

The firm's fortunes have turned somewhat in last few weeks, however.

A Chinese government agency has accused the firm of allowing "illegal operations" to flourish on its websites, including the sale of counterfeit or fake merchandise - which has in turn raised questions by US stock market regulators.

Alibaba is often described as the Chinese version of eBay, but it surpassed the US company in China more than a decade ago, essentially forcing it to retreat in the Chinese market.

Its flagship platform Taobao is estimated to hold more than 90 percent of the Chinese market for consumer-to-consumer transactions.