HK may get second shot at Alibaba mega IPO

Alibaba Group's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Alibaba, with a market value of US$400 billion, has always been the biggest prize for Hong Kong's stock exchange. Five years after it spurned the city's bourse for a US$25 billion initial p
Alibaba Group's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Alibaba, with a market value of US$400 billion, has always been the biggest prize for Hong Kong's stock exchange. Five years after it spurned the city's bourse for a US$25 billion initial public offering in New York, the e-commerce giant is said to be considering a second listing in Hong Kong that could raise US$20 billion.PHOTO: REUTERS

5 years after NY share sale, e-commerce giant said to be mulling over second listing in HK

HONG KONG • The Chinese city of Hong Kong may be getting a second chance to land the record-breaking deal that got away.

Five years after Alibaba Group spurned the city's stock exchange for a US$25 billion initial public offering (IPO) in New York, the Chinese e-commerce giant is said to be considering a second listing in Hong Kong that could raise US$20 billion (S$27.5 billion).

The deal would mark a major victory for the city, which rewrote its stock-market rules after failing to attract Alibaba in 2014. Hong Kong is engaged in an increasingly crowded battle for technology listings as exchanges from Shanghai to Singapore ease their rules to attract fast-growing firms with dual-share classes and, in some cases, unproven business models.

Hong Kong's move to allow dual-class shares has already had an impact, helping the city lure two of last year's hottest tech IPOs. Xiaomi Corp and Meituan Dianping, the third-and seventh-largest debut offerings worldwide last year, both went public in Hong Kong to much fanfare, though their shares have since tumbled.

Alibaba, with a market value of US$400 billion, has always been the biggest prize. Mr Charles Li, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, has said repeatedly that he wanted the firm to list in the city. It was under his watch that Alibaba opted for New York, which allows dual-class structures.

One development that could help Hong Kong is the fizzling of a mainland initiative to introduce so-called Chinese depository receipts (CDR), which were meant to lure tech titans like Alibaba to Shanghai.

Pursuing a Hong Kong listing could be a deft political move for Alibaba founder Jack Ma, amid an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and China. With the CDR route closed - at least for now - having Alibaba's shares traded in Hong Kong may be the next best option. Starting in July, investors in China will be able to buy Hong Kong-listed firms with dual-class share structures via exchange links between the two markets.

Hong Kong's move to allow dual-class shares has already had an impact, helping the city lure two of last year's hottest tech IPOs. Xiaomi Corp and Meituan Dianping, the third-and seventh-largest debut offerings worldwide last year, both went public in Hong Kong to much fanfare, though their shares have since tumbled.

Efforts to lure Alibaba went all the way to the top of Hong Kong's government, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam exhorting Mr Ma to consider a listing in the city.

Hong Kong's adoption of structures that give founders disproportionate voting control came after years of debate, spurred in large part by the loss of Alibaba. Under new rules for secondary listings rolled out last year, the firm can apply for an exemption from standard restrictions in Hong Kong that bar governance models allowing certain key executives to nominate the board.

Mr Li, a vocal proponent of the rule changes, has eased other restrictions to encourage firms in industries such as biotech to go public without proven track records.

The exchange is also exploring how dual-class share rules can be expanded so that firms can hold stock with extra voting power. Under the current regime, such shares can be held only by company directors, and the extra voting rights expire when the holders leave the firm.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline 'HK may get second shot at Alibaba mega IPO'. Print Edition | Subscribe