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Alibaba IPO listing has New York traders buzzing

Alibaba.com's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China
Nelson Ching | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Alibaba.com's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China

The Financial Times says that Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba was "95 percent certain" they would list in the U.S.

That leaves Hong Kong out in the cold on what may be the biggest IPO of the year and New York very much in.

What we don't know is which exchange it might list on. The NYSE and NASDAQ have "no comment" on an Alibaba listing.

Why not a Hong Kong listing? After all, the company is based in Hangzhou on the Chinese coast...the reason is Alibaba is in a dispute with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange over its partnership structure.

The shareholder structure it is proposing would allow a group of top managers and founders to nominate and control the board. It also apparently wants to continue to control the company after it goes public, even if it currently only controls 13 percent of the company's shares. That, apparently, runs afoul of Hong Kong securities laws.

Is this a problem in the U.S.? No. The U.S. allows owners and founders to effectively control companies, most often by issuing super voting classes of stock. Most media companies have these super-voting shares.

Alibaba says it will not change its partnership structure. The Hong Kong Exchange has hinted it will not change its rules.

As for the amount of an IPO, that is unclear, but it could top the $17.8 billion IPO record set by Visa.

That's got the floor abuzz...the hope is that this could set off another wave of IPOs, both here and in China.

No need to worry about that. There's already four Chinese IPOs that have filed to go public here, and another half-dozen that have likely filed.

The four are:

  1. JD.com: Filed $1.5 billion IPO; China's #2 e-commerce site
  2. E-House's Leju Holdings: Filed $200 million IPO; Online real-estate platform
  3. iKang Health: Filed $150 million IPO; Privately-owned medical centers
  4. Tarena: Filed $100 million IPO; Online technical education centers


Also "rumored" to have been filed:

  1. Jumei: $600 million IPO; Chinese online cosmetics retailer
  2. Sina's Weibo: $300 million IPO; The Twitter of China
  3. iQiyi: Baidu's Hulu


This is a remarkable turnaround. In 2010, Chinese IPOs exploded in the U.S. There were a record 41 U.S.-listed Chinese IPOs and momentum continued until mid-2011, according to Renaissance Capital, when many accounting weaknesses were found. In 2011, of the 12 deals done two-thirds had dropped far below their IPO prices. This turned off U.S. Investors until the accounting scandals passed.

In mainland China, the regulators shut the IPO market starting in the Fall of 2012 until recently to clean up the issuance process. That market is just now starting to open back up.

One final note: Accounting issues with Chinese companies have not gone away. The SEC is in an indirect dispute with mainland Chinese regulators. The SEC wants the auditing companies of Chinese companies listed in the U.S. to turn over certain accounting documents related to the companies. The auditors have been told by Chinese regulators not to turn over the documents. The SEC is attempted to penalize the firms for failing to comply, but the firms have appealed.

Regardless: It's going to be a busy couple months for IPOs, including good, old-fashioned American IPOs.

And the recent IPOs have been faring well. So far this year, the Renaissance IPO ETF (IPO), a cap-weighted basket of newly public companies, is up 6.7%, far outpacing the S&P 500 and other global indices.


By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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