Dimon, other Wall St titans make time for Ma ahead of Alibaba IPO

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - The most anticipated IPO since Facebook has attracted lawyers, bankers and potential investors, showering China's Alibaba with attention ahead of a stock offering that some say could exceed US$15 billion (S$18.6 billion).

And in what has become standard practice for large Chinese transactions, Wall Street CEOs have dropped-by to say hello to Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma over the past few weeks.

JPMorgan CEO and chairman Jamie Dimon met with Mr Ma during a China trip this week, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The two shook hands during the brief encounter, a second source said. Last month, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat met Mr Ma as part of an Asia-wide trip, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Top bankers are being flown in from New York and other banking headquarters, banking sources say, to get in front of Mr Ma and his management team as the company prepares for a long-awaited public offering. At stake for the banks are tens of millions of dollars in fees if they are chosen as an underwriter, plus the bragging rights to having worked on one of the largest Internet listings.

China's e-commerce giant has yet to officially acknowledge the IPO plans or outline a timetable for the deal, though Mr Ma himself has dropped several public hints that it is coming.

Hedge fund manager Carl Huttenlocher, founder of Myriad Asset Management, estimates Alibaba could command a valuation of US$150 billion to US$200 billion by the second half of next year.

Mr Huttenlocher, who spoke at the inaugural Karen Leung Memorial Investor Conference in Hong Kong on Thursday, said he based the figure on an analysis of estimated profits and growth of China's e-commerce market.

Alibaba has yet to formally name its roster of underwriters, though banks are jockeying for position. Reuters reported on Thursday that Credit Suisse is expected to earn a leading role in the IPO. Citigroup and JPMorgan declined to comment.

Sending top executives to deal pitches, especially in Asia, is meant to underscore the bank's commitment to the offering. Unlike other parts of the world, the Asia business culture holds title in very high esteem.

One Asia banker who spoke to Reuters said she knows of a deal - an IPO worth several hundred million dollars - whereby the company refused to offer an underwriter a mandate because the bank sent a sub-regional head to a deal-pitch rather than the top executive for the region.

Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson made several trips to China ahead of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's US$19 billion IPO in 2006, according to media reports at the time.

Morgan Stanley chairman John Mack and CEO James Gorman flew to Beijing to pitch for Agricultural Bank of China's US$22.1 billion IPO in 2010, media reports at the time said.

While meeting a Chinese entrepreneur this time around is different from the bureaucratic stops in Beijing, both types of meetings are meant to ensure a trusted, lucrative relationship.

Alibaba's IPO could send around US$260 million in collective fees to banks, Reuters Breakingviews reported last month.

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