HONG KONG (AP) – Alibaba’s choice of New York over Hong Kong for its blockbuster IPO was a blow for the Chinese financial centre. Now, the city’s stock market is starting to rethink rules that stopped it from accommodating the Chinese e-commerce giant’s unique management setup.
As China’s leading financial centre with its own currency and separate Western-style legal system, Hong Kong has been the traditional first choice for Chinese enterprises going public outside the mainland.
But Alibaba settled earlier this year on New York for its stock market listing after Hong Kong refused to make an exception for the company’s partnership system in which a small group of company insiders nominate the majority of the board of directors without owning a controlling stake.
The initial public offering may raise more than $24 billion, making it the biggest ever. Trading of Alibaba shares is expected to begin in New York later this week.
Executives at Hangzhou, China-based Alibaba said its partnership system was necessary for preserving the company’s innovative culture, but Hong Kong’s listing committee said it would go against the exchange’s “one share, one vote” principle that’s aimed at treating all investors equally.
Alibaba Group founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma waves to reporters before an IPO road show at a hotel in Hong Kong on Sept 15. Alibaba’s choice of New York over Hong Kong for its blockbuster IPO was a blow for the Chinese financial centre – AP
Alibaba found a more receptive welcome in the United States, where it’s common for big companies including tech giants such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn to have dual-class share structures that empower one shareholder or a group of shareholders over others.
Other Chinese tech firms that have had recently listed in the US, including web search company Baidu and online retailer JD.com, have dual classes of stock.
“People say that Hong Kong lost Alibaba but to me, I think Alibaba missed this great opportunity to list in Hong Kong. It’s very regrettable,” founder Jack Ma told reporters Monday in the southern Chinese financial center, the latest stop on the company’s global roadshow for the share sale.
Ma chalked the loss up to poor timing, preparation or communications but stressed there were no hard feelings.
He said the company would “continue to love Hong Kong” and that the city “shouldn’t change its principles just for one company”.
The loss of Alibaba’s IPO led to some hand-wringing in Hong Kong financial circles over whether the rules in Asia’s second biggest stock exchange should be changed to allow new shareholding structures.
“The day for that debate has finally come,” Charles Li, CEO of stock exchange operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, said on his blog after the bourse unveiled a “concept paper” at the end of August to gather views from the public on “weighted voting rights”.
Hong Kong’s stock exchange earns some of its profit from listing charges, which include an initial fee of up to $84,000 and annual fees of up to $153,000. Listing-related revenue rose 13 per cent in the first half of the year as more companies went public compared with last year.
The paper follows discussions among the exchange, finance industry executives and the city’s securities regulator that began nearly 15 months before, said Li.
“Let’s all be frank, it would have been nice if this could have been released earlier,” he wrote.