Despite trade tensions between the U.S. and China and Altaba (NASDAQ:AABA) liquidating its stake in Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), Alibaba stock has done very well in 2019, rising 21% year-to-date. A big part of its success this year is BABA’s plan to list its shares in Hong Kong.
According to Bloomberg, Alibaba has filed confidentially for a Hong Kong listing in what could be the territory’s biggest listing sale since 2010. Although the final fundraising target isn’t finalized, Alibaba could raise as much as $20 billion from the listing.
Before it IPO’d in New York in 2014, Alibaba considered listing in Hong Kong but decided against it due to tougher ownership regulations in the territory. If Alibaba listed in New York, Jack Ma and cofounder Joseph Tsai could still retain control of the company despite not owning a majority percentage of Alibaba. In Hong Kong, Ma and Tsai would not be able to control Alibaba so effectively.
Although Hong Kong hasn’t changed its ownership rules, Alibaba is now much more inclined to a Hong Kong listing. First, Jack Ma plans to retire and focus more on philanthropy. Second, the Chinese government seems to want more Chinese companies to list in China rather than in New York.
Naturally, many investors wonder how much upside a Hong Kong listing would mean for Alibaba’s U.S. shares.
A Listing That’s Bullish, But Only Partly So
I believe Alibaba’s U.S. listed stock will benefit from the listing, but only slightly.
If Alibaba were to list in Hong Kong, I believe the stock would be valued at a higher multiple than its current valuation in New York. More people use Alibaba’s services and websites in China and Hong Kong, and the added awareness will likely generate more buying from retail investors, which could give Alibaba a higher valuation.
While that sounds like great news for U.S. owners of Alibaba, it’s only partly bullish because the two exchanges are hard to arbitrage. In an ideal world, if Alibaba’s stock in Hong Kong were priced higher than it was in New York, an astute investor could buy the New York stock and sell the Hong Kong stock, and hope for an eventual closing in a relatively risk-free manner.
The problem is that a closing isn’t guaranteed to happen in the real world. Although the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar, there isn’t a Hong Kong New York stock exchange connect where an investor could easily buy the Hong Kong listed Alibaba stock and simultaneously sell the New York listed stock.
Meaningful discounts between similar securities have also persisted for many years before. For a long time, South African conglomerate Naspers traded for a 30% discount to its Tencent (OTCMKTS:TCEHY) stake alone, despite Naspers owning things outside of Tencent.
Are There Plenty More Reasons to Buy Alibaba Stock?
There is a lot to like about BABA stock besides the fact that it will list in Hong Kong. Although it dominates e-commerce in China, BABA trades for just 19 times forward earnings estimates, which almost makes it a value stock considering its future earnings growth potential.
Furthermore, Alibaba isn’t just an e-commerce play. Due to various astute investments, Alibaba has exposure to China’s mobile payments market with partial ownership of Alipay, exposure to China’s cloud growth with Alibaba Cloud, and exposure to a variety of future markets due to its leadership in artificial intelligence. By being one of China’s top two tech companies, Alibaba has the financial resources to buy or copy the business models of competitors that might disrupt it. It has the financial resources to invest in startups of promising sectors and participate in their growth as well.
As for the potential long-term effect of the Hong Kong listing, the listing could improve Alibaba’s fundamentals if management executes. If the company uses the money raised for productive purposes such as investing more in the cloud or artificial intelligence, Alibaba’s margins and earnings-per-share could go higher and that’ll benefit investors everywhere, not just in Hong Kong.
As of this writing, Jay Yao did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.