Sep 19, 2014 3:53 PM

Alibaba surges in its stock market debut

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Alibaba's stock soared as the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse began its first day trading as a public company Friday.

The stock opened at $92.70 and nearly hit $100 on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, a gain of 46 percent from the initial $68 per share price set Thursday evening.

At Friday's opening price, the company is worth $228.5 billion, more than companies such as Amazon, Ebay and even Facebook.

Jubilant CEO Jack Ma stood on the NYSE trading floor Friday as eight Alibaba customers, including an American cherry farmer and a Chinese Olympian, rang the opening bell.

"We want to be bigger than Wal-Mart," Ma told CNBC shortly after the opening Bell. "We hope in 15 years people say this is a company like Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart, they changed, shaped the world."

On Thursday, Alibaba and the investment bankers arranging the initial public offering settled on a price of $68 per share. The company and its early investors raised $21.8 billion in the offering, which valued Alibaba at $168 billion in one of the world's biggest ever initial public offerings.

But after a two-hour trading delay due to strong demand, it opened much higher than that price.

The company, which is trading under the symbol "BABA," has enjoyed a surge in U.S. popularity over the past two weeks as investors met with executives, including Ma. As part of the so-called roadshow, would-be investors heard a sales pitch that centered on Alibaba's strong revenue growth and seemingly endless possibilities for expansion. Demand was so high that the company raised its offering price to $66 to $68 per share from $60 to $66 per share on Monday.

The main reason investors appear breathless about the 15-year old Alibaba: It offers an investment vehicle that taps into China's burgeoning middle-class.

Alibaba's Taobao, TMall and other platforms account for some 80 percent of Chinese online commerce. Most of Alibaba's 279 million active buyers visit the sites at least once a month on smartphones and other mobile devices, making the company attractive to investors as computing shifts away from laptop and desktop machines.

And the growth rate is not expected to mature anytime soon. Online spending by Chinese shoppers is forecast to triple from its 2011 size by 2015. Beyond that, Alibaba has said it plans to expand into emerging markets and eventually, Europe and the U.S.

"There are very few companies that are this big, grow this fast, and are this profitable," said Wedbush analyst Gil Luria.

Alibaba operates an online ecosystem that lets individuals and small businesses buy and sell. It doesn't directly sell anything, compete with its merchants, or hold inventory.

"The business model is really interesting. It's not just an eBay, it's not an Amazon, it's not a Paypal. It's all of that and much more," said Reena Aggarwal, a professor at Georgetown.

Like China's consumer and Internet market, Alibaba is still growing rapidly. The company's revenue in its latest quarter ending in June surged 46 percent from last year to $2.54 billion while its earnings climbed 60 percent to nearly $1.2 billion, after subtracting a one-time gain and certain other items.

In its last fiscal year ending March 31, Alibaba earned $3.7 billion, making it more profitable than eBay Inc. and Inc. combined. Amazon ended Thursday with a market value of about $150 billion while eBay's market value stood at $67 billion.

Alibaba, is based in Hangzhou in Eastern China, Ma's hometown. The company got started in 1999 when Ma and 17 friends developed a fledgling e-commerce company on the cusp of the Internet boom. Today, Alibaba's main platforms are its original business-to-business service, consumer-to-consumer site Taobao and TMall, a place for brands to sell to consumers.

And while there's plenty of growth left in China, Ma has recently hinted about plans to expand beyond those borders.

"We hope to become a global company, so after we go public in the U.S., we will expand strongly in Europe and America," Ma said to a group of reporters in Kowloon on Monday.

Alibaba offered 320.1 million shares for a total offering size of $21.77 billion. Underwriters have a 30-day option to buy up to about 48 million more shares. That means the offering size could be as much as $25 billion

The IPO's fundraising handily eclipses the $16 billion Facebook raised in 2012, the most for a technology IPO. If all of its underwriters' options are exercised, it would also top the all-time IPO fundraising record of $22.1 billion set by the Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. in 2010.

Yahoo, which has been struggling to grow for years, made a windfall $8.28 billion by selling 121.7 million of is Alibaba shares. And founder Jack Ma sold 12.75 million shares worth $867 million.


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