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Alibaba Readies $14 Billion Share Sale in Hong Kong

UPDATED: Chinese e-commerce and entertainment giant Alibaba may raise up to $15 billion through a secondary listing of its shares in Hong Kong. The move would be the largest share offering this year and comes despite the ongoing civil strife in the Asian financial capital.

Alibaba’s shares have been traded in American Depositary Receipt form on the New York Stock Exchange since 2014, when the company broke records that year with a $25 billion IPO.

The long-anticipated plans for a secondary listing were announced Wednesday to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and follow approval by the stock market regulators in Hong Kong. The company also published a 661-page, highly-redacted offer document in Hong Kong.

The SEC filing says that the price of the new shares will be set between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25, and that trading will begin Nov. 26. Eight of the new shares will be equivalent to one of the U.S.-traded ADRs. On Thursday evening Hong Kong time, the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post reported that the offer price would be no higher than HK$188, equivalent to $24 per share. At that value, the share sale would raise $13.7 billion.

The New York filing shows the company selling 500 million new shares, with a possible 75 million additional shares available if demand is strong enough. Only a tiny 5% sliver would be available to small investors, with the vast majority being reserved for institutions. The SCMP also said that the international tranche of the offering had been sold out on the first day.

Alibaba has portrayed its decision to list shares in Hong Kong as a “natural first choice.” It may also be a precaution against changes in the relationship between the U.S. and China, which have been buffeted by a trade war, tariffs and other forms of protectionism, and a weaponization of trade and technology by both sides.

Private investors in mainland China are largely unable to trade in U.S.-listed stocks. But they are more easily able to do so in Hong Kong equities, through the so-called stock connect system which directly links bourses in Hong Kong and mainland China. The secondary listing in Hong Kong, then, gives the hundreds of millions of users of Alibaba’s e-commerce, business and ticketing platforms the ability to also buy the company’s shares.

Alibaba recently claimed a new record of 1.3 billion orders delivered, worth $38.4 billion (RMB268 billion), from its Nov. 11 Singles Day shopping spree.

The Hong Kong listing also provides a way for Alibaba shares to continue to be traded if commercial and political relations between China and the U.S. sour to the point where Chinese companies are ejected from U.S. financial markets. For a moment earlier this year that appeared to be the thinking emerging from the Trump-controlled White House, though it was never formalized as policy.

Other rumors have suggested that government-backed U.S. funds and financial institutions might halt investment in Chinese companies, something which could depress share prices. While Alibaba ADRs closed on Wednesday at $182.48, giving the firm a market capitalization of $475 billion, many U.S. investors, rattled by trade issues, corporate financial opacity, and regulatory issues, have already lost their enthusiasm for the shares of Chinese enterprises.

Hong Kong was previously the favored stock market for Alibaba’s IPO. But it shifted the share sale to North America, which was more willing to tolerate a company, typical of the tech industry, where management and founders retain ultimate control through a separate share class. The Hong Kong market regulators were bitterly disappointed to lose such a trophy company and have since diluted their rules.

The listing now goes ahead as Hong Kong has been wracked by five months of political turmoil and civic protests that have turned increasingly violent in the last two months. Anti-government protesters have regularly switched tactics in response to a Hong Kong government that appears to show little understanding of the crisis, but which seems willing to allow heavy-handed police tactics. On Thursday, traffic was disrupted at dozens of locations across the city and all schools were closed. Despite this, Hong Kong’s financial markets have continued to function largely as normal.

Alibaba is one of China’s leading entertainment businesses, though its approach to the sector is very much that of a tech player, rather than a conventional celluloid or TV operator.

“Digital media and entertainment is a natural extension of our strategy to capture our users’ consumption beyond core commerce, creating significant synergies across our digital economy. We leverage on insights from our core commerce businesses to deliver relevant digital media and entertainment content to consumers to create a superior entertainment experience,” its Hong Kong prospectus says.

“Our two key distribution platforms are Youku, the third largest online video platform in China in terms of monthly active users in March 2019, according to QuestMobile, and UC Browser, one of the top mobile browsers in the world in terms of page views in March 2019

“We also operate Alibaba Pictures, an Internet-driven integrated platform for the entertainment industry, and other content platforms, such as news feeds, literature and music. Our platforms enable users to discover and consume content as well as interact with each other.”

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