Technology giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is working on a plan to list on a stock exchange in its home market, China, according to people familiar with the matter, more than three years after its blockbuster initial public offering in New York.
Alibaba is evaluating ways in which its shares could be traded by investors on the mainland, the people said. A secondary listing in China could happen as soon as this summer if the country’s securities rules are changed to allow listings of foreign companies, one of the people added. While the bulk of Alibaba’s business and operations are in China, the nearly 20-year-old company is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
Chinese laws have long prohibited overseas companies from selling shares directly to local investors. China also currently forbids companies with shares that carry different voting rights to list on the mainland. Alibaba has a complex ownership structure that gives its founders and a small group of executives more control over the company than other shareholders.
The company in 2014 launched a $25 billion float on the New York Stock Exchange in what remains the world’s largest IPO.
An Alibaba spokeswoman said the company has been considering a listing in China since 2014, if regulations would permit it.
Chinese authorities are trying to lure some of the country’s technology stalwarts back to its capital markets. Alibaba’s shares have climbed 86% over the past year and have more than doubled since their IPO, gains that investors in China have largely missed out on. The company now has a market capitalization of around $493 billion and is one of the world’s most valuable technology firms.
In recent months, China’s securities regulator has been in touch with several investment banks to discuss ways to allow companies listed abroad to issue securities on the mainland, the Journal previously reported.
Liu Shiyu, chairman of the Chinese securities regulator, recently confirmed the government has been working to win over overseas Chinese listings. “You will see results,” he said on the sidelines of a legislative meeting in Beijing last week. “A bit slower than the firms expect and a bit quicker than you expect,” he added.
Noting that Chinese investors haven’t been able to profit from the share gains of some foreign-listed companies that he didn’t identify, Mr. Liu called it “a pity, a real pity” and said this “cannot happen again.” China’s securities regulator didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Some of the regulator’s discussions with banks have revolved around the creation of financial instruments called depositary receipts, which represent interests in the shares of foreign-listed companies.
Enticing Chinese tech companies trading abroad, such as Alibaba, Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , to list at home has become a national priority in recent months.
Chinese regulators want large homegrown companies and promising startups to participate in its capital markets, giving retail investors an opportunity to tap into the wealth generated by successful companies, among other goals. Tencent, whose shares have also doubled over the past year, is listed in Hong Kong, while Baidu is listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
A dual listing on the mainland would give Chinese companies the option of raising money domestically in their local currency and help boost their profile at home, said Rocky Lee, managing partner of the Silicon Valley office of law firm King & Wood Mallesons. He added that well-known companies could potentially fetch higher valuations for their shares from local investors, because their brands and businesses are better known domestically.
However, China’s stock market has historically had a reputation for being akin to a casino, and some analysts have said the listings of a few hot names could fuel speculation by Chinese individual investors, who dominate trading in the markets.
China’s securities regulator is expected to announce plans for a depositary share regime in the coming months, said people familiar with discussions it has had recently.
Depositary receipts are a common feature of major stock markets in the U.S. and Europe. Dozens of Chinese companies that are listed on the NYSE or Nasdaq have American depositary receipt programs typically administered by large banks.
In the case of Baidu, every 10 American depositary shares represent an interest in one of the internet company’s class A ordinary shares. Alibaba’s New York-listed securities are also American depositary shares, with each representing one ordinary share.
Another tech company that is considering listing in China as well as overseas is smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp., people familiar with the matter previously told the Journal. The homegrown company is planning to raise at least $10 billion in an initial public offering later this year, and has picked Hong Kong as its main listing venue but is also considering a concurrent listing on the mainland at the behest of Chinese authorities, the people said. Xiaomi’s parent company is also incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and to list in China it may also have to use a depositary receipt structure.