Will Alibaba Stock Attract Enough U.S. Investors?

Alibaba may be the most anticipated IPO since Facebook, but underwriters may have to scramble to get institutional investors and mutual funds to bu...
Iris DorbianAugust 12, 2014
Will Alibaba Stock Attract Enough U.S. Investors?

When Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba announced several months ago that it was planning an initial public offering this year, the excitement generated hadn’t been seen since Facebook went public in 2012. The IPO, which will list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “BABA,” has been hailed as possibly one of the biggest yet, with some experts speculating that it could rack up more than $20 billion.

Alibaba Group headquarters in Hangzhou

Alibaba Group headquarters in Hangzhou

But even with the intense anticipation, sources tell The Wall Street Journal that Alibaba may have to wrestle with a spate of challenges leading up to its public-market debut.

One dilemma, says the newspaper, is how to “create enough fervor to keep the shares rising in the days after it goes public.” The WSJ says that to accomplish this, some investors might have to “pony up $1 billion or more” to ensure demand remains high.

Then there’s the formidable task of spreading the word about Alibaba, a Chinese company unknown to some U.S. investors.

In addition, Alibaba’s governance structure could pose a problem. The company, notes the news outlet citing unnamed sources, “empowers a group of partners to nominate a majority of the corporate board.” Regulators may question “the structure of some of [Alibaba’s] assets, which due to China’s foreign-ownership limits are separately owned by outside companies.”

And although Alibaba is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and will trade on a U.S. exchange, it is domiciled in China, which means it won’t be tracked by major benchmarks, such as the S& P 500, which only follows U.S.-based firms. Clearly, this is an issue, says the WSJ, because “if a stock isn’t in a certain index, some funds can’t buy it.”

That doesn’t mean Alibaba will be included in Chinese and emerging market indexes either. Because of Alibaba’s “unusual three-legged structure, corporate domicile and chosen listing venue,” it might not be eligible to join indexes such as the FTSE Group and the MSCI focused on China and emerging markets, says the WSJ.

With these potential disadvantages, Alibaba might have to be especially aggressive when courting investors. Taking this into account, WSJ theorizes that the company may have to “pitch itself to portfolio managers focused on every sector, from Asia to Internet retailing to consumers, even targeting broad general global funds.”

Despite early chatter that the company would launch its IPO by the first week in August, according to recent reports from various news outlets, such as CNBC, the stock will likely debut sometime after Labor Day.

Source: Alibaba IPO Has Unusual Challenges for Bankers

Photo: Thomas LOMBARD, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0