Sources say Alibaba nearly set to choose New York over Hong Kong for IPO

By Nicel Jane Avellana

Mar 13, 2014 05:52 AM EDT

Sources told the Financial Times that Alibaba is already 95% sure that it would be holding its highly-anticipated public debut in New York than in Hong Kong. One person familiar with the process said that the Chinese company is not even engaged with the Hong Kong bourse anymore. Another person told FT, "I can categorically tell you that Alibaba will not list in Hong Kong."

The largest e-commerce company in China had originally intended to undertake a Hong Kong listing but had problems with the city's rules because it proposed to control the appointments made to its board of directors. Alibaba publicly announced that it would follow through with a Hong Kong listing, but was working behind the scenes this year through various lawyers to resurrect talks with the exchange. However, those discussions did not bear fruit, the report said.

Officials in the Hong Kong bourse are planning a consultation on the issue of whether the city should alter its rules to lure more tech firms to hold their public debuts there. However, the regulator is apparently not persuaded that a reason exists to change the current regulations by permitting different control structures to exist. There are also people in the exchange itself as well as in the Listing Committee that decides on IPO applicants that are not in favor of rule amendments, the report said.

FT quoted a source close to the authorities in Hong Kong as saying, "The basic issue is: would anyone be advocating a very significant potential change to the way in which shareholder rights are balanced if it were not for the potential competition, particularly from the US? If that [competition] didn't exist, would anyone take a view that some companies have such special characteristics that they're treated differently?"

Meanwhile, Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai told Reuters that they would be abandoning their partnership structure so that they could obtain a Hong Kong listing. However, he said that he respected the initiatives of the city to ensure the market's integrity, the FT report said.

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