SAN FRANCISCO — China’s Alibaba Group is aiming to raise $1 billion in a long-awaited IPO likely to have ripple effects across the Internet.
Tuesday’s filing sets the stage for the technology industry’s biggest initial public offering since short messaging service Twitter and its early investors collected $1.8 billion in its stock market debut last fall. Alibaba could still try to raise more money and even surpass the $16 billion that Facebook did two years ago, depending on investor demand for its stock .
For now, Alibaba isn’t specifying how much stock will be sold in the IPO or setting a price range. Those details will emerge as the IPO progresses, a process is likely to take three to four months to complete before Alibaba’s shares begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Although it’s not nearly as well-known as Facebook, Alibaba has emerged as an e-commerce powerhouse that has been making more money than Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc. combined. What’s more, the company is still growing at a rapid clip as its network of online services, including Taobao, Tmall and Alipay, mine a Chinese Internet market that already has twice as many Web surfers as the U.S.
The IPO is expected to provide Alibaba with the financial firepower to expand into other markets, including the U.S. Signaling its intent to extend its reach, Alibaba recently bought digital mapping service AutoNavi Holdings Ltd. for $1.5 billion and acquired a 16.5 percent stake in video website Youku Tudou in a $1.2 billion deal. Alibaba also just invested $215 million in Silicon Valley startup Tango to gain a toehold in the mobile messaging market.
Alibaba’s success has provided a financial crutch for Yahoo Inc., whose 24 percent stake in the Chinese company is the main reason that its own stock price has more than doubled during the past two years.
Yahoo is required to sell 208 million shares, or 40 percent of its Alibaba holdings, in the IPO as part of an agreement reached last year. The divestiture is expected to generate a windfall of more than $10 billion that will help define Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s legacy at the Sunnyvale, California company. Yahoo paid $1 billion for its original stake in a 2005 deal engineered by two of Mayer’s frequently maligned predecessors as CEO, co-founder Jerry Yang and Terry Semel.
Mayer could distribute most of the Alibaba proceeds to Yahoo’s stockholders by paying dividends or buying back millions of the company’s shares. She primarily bought back Yahoo stock after the company reaped more than $7 billion from a 2012 sale of Alibaba stock.
Or Mayer could set aside some of the Alibaba money to finance an acquisition that would increase Yahoo’s audience and digital advertising sales. Mayer might be tempted to do something bold because so far she hasn’t been able to boost Yahoo’s revenue during her nearly two-year reign.
Some analysts view AOL Inc. as a logical takeover candidate. Like Yahoo, AOL is a once-imposing Internet company that was outwitted by hard-charging innovators such as Google Inc. and Facebook that built lucrative advertising networks around dominant online franchises. AOL currently has a market value of $3.5 billion, a price that Yahoo could easily afford to pay after the Alibaba money rolls in.
The IPO could also provide the money for another major Alibaba stockholder, Japan’s SoftBank Corp., to buy wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc. Softbank already controls Sprint Corp. and has openly discussed the possibility of bidding for T-Mobile, too, in effort to become a more formidable player in the wireless market.
The IPO will cast a spotlight on Alibaba’s improbable rise, as well as the promise of China’s steadily growing Internet market.