Alibaba will raise up to $5bn from international debt markets this week, in what is set to be one of China’s biggest dollar bond sales, even as regulators pursue the technology group for alleged anti-competitive practices.
The Chinese ecommerce group, which was founded by billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma, announced the bond sale one month after proposals for the issue were first reported. Alibaba had previously been considering a bond sale of between $5bn and $8bn.
The planned fundraising followed Alibaba’s latest earnings report on Tuesday, in which the group posted a 37 per cent year-on year-increase in revenue for the quarter that ended in December. That exceeded analysts’ expectations but also marked one of the slowest quarters in terms of growth since Alibaba went public in 2014.
The group’s proposed bond offering also comes as it faces a clampdown from Chinese authorities. Regulators suspended the $37bn stock market listing of payments affiliate Ant Group in November and launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba in December.
A banker involved in the deal said the response from investors had been “strong” in the hours since the announcement but that there was a need to “take stock of whether the last few months of noise from China had a material impact” on appetite for the bonds.
The ecommerce group’s New York-listed shares are down about a fifth since late October. Its Hong Kong-traded stock fell 3.7 per cent on Wednesday.
Alibaba plans to sell the debt in tranches with maturities of up to 40 years. A 20-year “sustainability” tranche is tied to green projects.
Rating agency Moody’s scored Alibaba’s proposed bond issuance as A1, firmly in investment grade. However, Lina Choi, senior Moody’s vice-president, cautioned that the group was exposed to “heightened scrutiny by regulators with respect to perceived anti-competitive behaviour, in turn raising legal, regulatory and reputational risks”.
Alibaba had $44bn in cash on its balance sheet at the end of September, much of it held onshore in Chinese renminbi. Proceeds from the $5bn bond will be used to boost working capital and repay its offshore debt, according to a regulatory filing in the US.
The company also increased its share buyback programme from $6bn to $10bn in December.
“The motivation for a lot of issuers at the moment is to be opportunistic and take advantage of high liquidity in the market, low rates and very cheap financing,” said the banker close to the deal. “The thinking [for Alibaba] is ‘go now rather than wait to see what happens in a year’.”
Apple, another tech group with a strong cash position, sold $14bn of bonds this week to take advantage of cheap borrowing costs.
Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and China International Capital are among the underwriters on the bond sale, according to the filing.
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