Some American Internet companies may be unpopular with investors these days, but a Chinese one is finding plenty of takers.
The Alibaba Group, a Chinese e-commerce giant, is close to completing a more than $8 billion round of financing that will value it at as much as $43 billion in equity, according to two people briefed on the matter. Alibaba plans to use the bulk of that new money to buy back a 20 percent stake in itself from Yahoo for $7.1 billion. Yahoo owns 40 percent of Alibaba.
One Yahoo executive who signed off on that deal with Alibaba, Ross Levinsohn, announced on Monday that he was leaving the Internet company. The departure of Mr. Levinsohn, who served as Yahoo's interim chief executive for three months, was expected after the company's board hired Marissa Mayer from Google as its new leader.
With its financing nearly in place, Alibaba is prepared not only to solidify its position as the most valuable privately held Internet company but also to take a big step toward separating itself from Yahoo, which has struggled to revive its brand and stock price.
Alibaba's financing round includes a $1.5 billion sale of convertible preferred shares, based on a $43 billion equity valuation for the company, and the sale of $2.6 billion in common shares, at a roughly $35 billion valuation, the people briefed on the matter said. They requested anonymity because the discussions are private. Alibaba is also close to borrowing $4 billion.
The agreement with Yahoo stipulated that Yahoo could receive more than $7.1 billion if its Chinese partner raised money at a significantly higher valuation than it is expected to. Yet because the sale of preferred shares and common shares are subject to certain discounts, Alibaba is still expected to pay close to the original amount.
Still, that price represents a big return on Yahoo's investment.
Yahoo invested $1 billion in Alibaba about seven years ago, gaining a 40 percent stake in what was then seen as a promising Chinese start-up company.
Now the Alibaba 40 percent stake makes up more than half of Yahoo's $20 billion market value. Under the agreement hashed out in May, Yahoo will sell back another 10 percent of Alibaba shares when the Chinese company goes public and divest itself of the rest at later date.
Shares of Yahoo fell nearly 1 percent on Monday to close at $15.98 per share.
The two companies have butted heads a number of times in recent years. Alibaba's decision in 2010 to spin off its Alipay online payment business prompted protests from Yahoo that it had not been properly consulted. The dispute was not settled until last summer.
Alibaba has long sought to buy back Yahoo's interest in itself, though attempts to reach an agreement fell apart many times. Irritated that Yahoo was considering selling a minority stake in itself to investor groups last year, Alibaba threatened to wage a hostile takeover attempt to try to forestall such a possibility. The American company eventually abandoned the idea.
Alibaba is raising billions of dollars from a patchwork of international backers. Nearly a dozen investors, including hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, mutual funds and private equity firms, will buy the preferred shares, these people said. The China Investment Corporation, that country's sovereign wealth fund, will participate in the purchase of the common shares. The China Development Bank, is expected to provide a substantial portion of the loan to Alibaba.
Joseph C. Tsai, Alibaba's chief financial officer, who has led the company's fund-raising efforts, tried to limit the financing round to a small group of investors to restrict access to Alibaba's financial information, one of the people briefed on the financing matter said.
The rapid rise of Alibaba, a collection of Chinese consumer and business-to-business e-commerce sites, illustrates how quickly momentum can shift on the global Web. Seven years ago, the company was eager for a capital infusion amid intensifying competition from domestic and international rivals like eBay, which owned an online auction site named Eachnet. In 2004, the year before Yahoo's investment, Alibaba recorded just $68 million in revenue.
Since then, Alibaba's sales have swelled.
In the first half of this year, Alibaba recorded a little more than $1.8 billion in revenue, more than 60 percent more than in the year-earlier period, people with knowledge of the matter said.
In contrast, Yahoo has fallen nearly as swiftly. In early 2008, Yahoo spurned a takeover offer from Microsoft - a bid that valued it at roughly $45 billion. Since then, Yahoo's slumping advertising sales have slumped and it has lost market share to companies like Google and Facebook. Its shares, since its Alibaba investment, have lost more than half their value.
In an effort to appease investors, Yahoo has said the proceeds of Alibaba's purchase will be returned to shareholders, possibly through a share buyback program.
Alibaba is expected to complete the repurchase of the 20 percent stake in the beginning of the fourth quarter.