By Julie Zhu and Greg Roumeliotis
HONG KONG/NEW YORK (Reuters) – China’s biggest e-commerce company Alibaba (NYSE:) Group Holding Ltd has delayed its up to $15 billion listing in Hong Kong amid growing political unrest in the Asian financial hub, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listing plans are being closely watched by the financial community for indications on the business environment in the Chinese-controlled territory and provides a window into Beijing’s reading of the situation.
While no new timetable has been formally set, Alibaba could launch the Hong Kong deal as early as in October, seeking to raise $10-$15 billion, when political tensions ease and market conditions become favorable again, said one of the people.
The decision to postpone the deal, initially set for late August, was taken at a board meeting before Alibaba’s latest earnings release last week, the second person said.
The delay is due to the lack of financial and political stability in Hong Kong amid more than 11 weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations which have become increasingly violent and plunged the city into turmoil, the people added.
Tear gas has been used frequently by police while more than 700 people have been arrested, followed by an unprecedented airport shutdown last week. Hong Kong’s stock market fell to seven-month lows last week.
“It would be very unwise to launch the deal now or anytime soon,” the first person said. “It would certainly annoy Beijing by offering Hong Kong such a big gift given what’s going on in the city,” the source added.
Both people declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to media.
Alibaba declined to comment on its Hong Kong deal plans.
DEAL CRUCIAL FOR HK EXCHANGE
The deal, potentially the world’s biggest equity deal of the year and the largest follow-on share sale in seven years, would give Alibaba a war chest to keep investing in technology.
The company, however, views it as a way to “diversify its access to capital markets”, but not as core to its business, said the second source. Alibaba “does not see the postponement as a blow,” the person added.
Meanwhile, a listing by Alibaba is a big deal for the Hong Kong stock exchange, which is lagging behind its New York rivals in the annual battle to be the leading global listings venue.
Just last month, Anheuser-Busch InBev canceled a planned up to $9.8 billion Hong Kong IPO of its Asia Pacific unit.
The city loosened its rules last year specifically to lure overseas-listed Chinese tech giants to list closer to home.
Alibaba would be the first to test the new system.
Asked last week whether Hong Kong’s turmoil would affect Alibaba’s listing, Hong Kong stock exchange CEO Charles Li avoided directly acknowledging the company’s application, which is still technically confidential.
But Li added: “I am confident that companies like that ultimately will find a home here, because this is home and I think they will come. I don’t know when though.”