Alibaba makes IPO history, opens new e-commerce chapter

Updated: 2014-09-20 06:39


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Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd made history on Friday with its record-breaking initial public offering (IPO) at the New York Stock Exchange, opening at $92.70, nearly 40 percent higher than its intial price of $68, and passed Facebook Inc in market value on the first day of trading.

Alibaba is now valued at $231.4 billion - larger than Inc. and EBay Inc. combined, and more valuable than all but 10 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, according to Bloomberg News.

Alibaba's IPO has opened a new chapter for the Chinese company and has created bigger responsbility for the 15-year-old company, said Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba.

"The road ahead will be more difficult because what we raised is more than money - we raised trust from our customers," said the 49-year-old who was once an English teacher.

Ma said that the IPO marks a milestone of the Hangzhou-based company and represents a success story for the hard work of 15 years by all of Alibaba's people.

"We are lucky," said Ma before the bell-opening ceremony at the Big Board. "The luck is from our customers, the Internet and China (referring to the country's booming e-commerce market) and we are very grateful to them," said Ma.

Ma empahsized the value of Alibaba's customers, saying they have made Alibaba what it is today. He chose eight Alibaba customers - seven Chinese and one American - to represent the company at the ringing of the opening bell to show the company's appreciation for them.

Alibaba's soaring debut on the NYSE was predicted by many financial experts. But now after the record-breaking IPO, the company is under pressure to make its growth sustainable, Ma said.

Still, many consider Alibaba's success a unqiue story about a Chinese firm, praising Ma's vision and his courage to be bold enough to dream big.

"Especially, considering its humble beginnings - an e-commerce company started in 1999 with $60,000 cobbled together by Jack Ma, a teacher," said Timothy P. Speiss, chairman of Personal Wealth Advisors Practice of New York-based EisnerAmper LLP. "Alibaba has solidified its status as a symbol of China's economic and technology strength by raising $21.8 billion in its US initial public offering."

Ma also shared his view on Chinese firms becoming global. "It's not just about having presence in overseas markets; it is about having a global mind," he said.

Frank Lavin, founder of the e-commerce platform Export Now, which helps American manufacturers and distributors sell online in China, said Alibaba's IPO is a "growth story" that goes beyond the Chinese market.

"EBay and Amazon have been multi-market firms for a number of years, and this IPO puts Alibaba into that top-tier rank," said Lavin. Regardless of how big the US or the China market is, the top-tier companies need to be global."

When speaking about the value of its customers, Ma emphasized the value of small- to medium-sized businesses that have been important for the e-commerce giant.

Michael Tudor, founder and CEO of New Jersey-based Ripen eCommerce, said

small- to mid-size businesses can look at Alibaba as a shortcut to reaching the massive Chinese e-commerce market.

"Tmall (one of Alibaba's marketplaces) is a particularly brand-friendly marketplace for a number of reasons, including small commission rates and the fact that it doesn't sell merchandise of its own, unlike Amazon," said Tudor. "At the same time, is a business-to-business site that connects manufacturers with retailers around the world. No other site has been able to streamline the connection between manufacturers and buyers."

There are more than 10 million small- and-medium-sized enterprises in China, which have created 60 percent of China's total economic output, according to a paper by the University of Michigan.

"The Chinese e-commerce market represents an incredible opportunity for Western online retailers. Smart retailers will continue to invest in Chinese consumers," said Tudor.

Some financial experts are concerned about the scale of Alibaba's IPO, which potentially might create strong competition for US e-commerce firms such as Amazon and eBay. But many experts believe such impact won't show, at least in the short term.

"Once Alibaba has navigated its IPO, it will focus on increasing the size of the Chinese e-commerce market by improving delivery logistics to rural areas and helping to increase access to the Web among the population," said Tudor. "This is great news for global brands and small US merchants planning to use Alibaba as a channel to reach Chinese consumers."

"Initially, it won't have much impact, but over time, if it can provide products at lower cost points or a new and innovative way to engage buyers, Amazon and eBay would see a deterioration of their market share," said Ken Wisnefski, CEO of Webimax and an Internet expert.

Mark Otto, partner at J Streicher & Co and a trader at the NYSE, said that Alibaba's IPO will have an impact on US e-commerce companies because it will give traders an alternative investment that allows them to take part in the Chinese growth story.

"Going forward, if and when Alibaba decides to make a move to expand its user base and challenge its US counterparts directly, then the impact could be much more severe," Otto said.

Alibaba makes IPO history, opens new e-commerce chapter

Jack Ma (center), co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group;Lu Zhaoxi (left), CEO of Alibaba Group; and Tom Farley, president of NYSE Group meet the Chinese press after Alibaba started trading at NYSE on Friday. ZHANG YUWEI / CHINA DAILY