Alibaba, HK exchange take listing debate online

Updated: 2013-09-28 01:41

By Meng Jing and Gao Changxin (China Daily)

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Executives from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd have taken their debate over the company's proposed initial public offering into cyberspace with dueling blog posts.

They're using the Web to state their positions on whether China's largest e-commerce company should be able to go public in the city while maintaining its special corporate structure.

Alibaba, HK exchange take listing debate online

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Friday that the company has "no timetable, no location selected and no underwriters" for its planned IPO, which, according to investment banks, is valued at as much as $120 billion. Provided to China Daily

Joe Tsai, co-founder and executive vice-chairman of Alibaba Group, mounted the first public defense of the company's governance structure — where a group of partners makes all key operating decisions — in a blog post at 11 pm on Thursday.

"Our governance structure is a creative way to address the core issues that matter to shareholders while staying true to who we are — which we cannot, and will not, change,"Tsai wrote.

Alibaba is preparing a high-profile IPO, which is expected to be the biggest tech debut globally since Facebook Inc's $16 billion listing last year.

The company's governance structure is the key point of contention with the stock exchange in Hong Kong, which says that all shareholders should be treated equally.

Tsai's posting was the company's first public comment since rumors emerged that Alibaba would go public in the United States instead of Hong Kong.

Tsai didn't comment directly on the matter, but he said in his blog posting: "As a company with most of our business in China, it was natural for Hong Kong to be our first choice.”

On Friday, Alibaba Group had no further comment on whether it had chosen the US to go public.

"We have no timetable, no location selected and no underwriters for the IPO,"said a company representative on Friday.

Tsai's blog posting came not long after Charles Li, HKEx's chief executive, posted on his blog on Wednesday hinting that the HKEx might not compromise its rules for Alibaba.

"As enshrined in our charter, in the event of a conflict, public interest is put ahead of shareholder interest at HKEx,"he wrote.

Asked by China Daily if the exchange would consider a rule change to accommodate Alibaba, a spokeswoman said on Friday: "We are constantly listening to the market and reviewing our listing rules, but we don't make comments on individual comments and deals."

Investment banks have valued Alibaba, founded by former English teacher Jack Ma, at as much as $120 billion. Losing the Alibaba IPO offering would be a blow to Hong Kong, which hasn't hosted a first-time share sale of more than $4 billion since October 2010.

Tsai said in his blog post that Hong Kong capital market regulators must "consider what is needed in order to adapt to future trends and changes”.

"The question Hong Kong must address is whether it is ready to look forward as the rest of the world passes it by,"he wrote.

Tsai said the company never proposed a dual-class structure, and the partnership arrangement was meant to protect the company's long-term interests.

Tsai emphasized that the company's governance structure was a "living body"intended to preserve the corporate culture rather than being a means of control.

SoftBank Corp, Alibaba's biggest shareholder with a stake of about 37 percent, has backed the partnership structure as integral to the success of the e-commerce company.

"Alibaba has built a phenomenal business and created tremendous value for its shareholders over the years,"SoftBank Corp Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son said on Friday in a statement.

"Alibaba's special culture is at the heart of its success and preserving it will be very important going forward. We are therefore very supportive of the Alibaba partnership structure,"Son said.