Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, made a frenzied debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday ending its first day as a public company valued at over $231bn, more than Facebook or Amazon and eBay combined.
The biggest ever share sale in the US got off to a flying – if delayed – start on Friday as investors snapped up stock. Shares initially priced at $68 reached a high of $100 at one point before settling back to $93.89 by the end of the day, up 38%.
Founded by Jack Ma, a former English teacher who started the site from his one-bedroom apartment in Hangzhou in 1998, Alibaba now controls 80% of online commerce in China.
Ma cemented his position as China’s richest man with the sale. The value of his Alibaba shares is now close to $19bn.
“We have a dream,” Ma said as he rang the opening bell to officially launch the flotation on the NYSE. “We hope in the next 15 years the world changes because of us. We hope in 15 years people say this is a company like Microsoft, IBM, Walmart. They changed, shaped the world … We want to be bigger than Walmart.”
Alibaba will have to add another $20bn to make that dream come true, but the company is already more valuable than many of its US tech peers and JP Morgan Chase.
Ma raised $21.8bn from the sale and now has a huge war chest with which to expand the business. He has ambitions to grow the business in the US as well as Europe and China.
Rapid Ratings chief executive James Gellert said the initial public offering (IPO) marked a watershed moment. “This puts the US on notice that global tech is about more than Silicon Valley,” he said. “Every tech company in the US that is in Alibaba’s general business is paying close attention. This company is going to be a formidable competitor with a tremendous amount of cash.”
Alibaba’s share sale was expected to start at 10.30am, but was delayed as officials worked their way through a huge number of orders from retail investors. Over 1,700 investment firms worldwide are believed to have put in orders for shares.
Sam Hamadeh, chief executive of analyst PrivCo, said the delay was unusual. “But this is an unusual IPO because it so large,” he said.
He pointed to Facebook’s IPO in 2012, which proved a disaster, as the Nasdaq’s systems were overwhelmed by orders for what was then the largest tech IPO of all time. “They clearly want to get this right,” he said.
In an interview with CNBC, Ma said he believed that his customers and employees should come before shareholders, but added: “I am very honoured and so excited … the responsibility I’ve been thinking about the next five to 10 years is: how can I make sure these shareholders are happy?”
Ma told CNBC that he had got the idea for his business when he visited the US, and looks to Forrest Gump for inspiration. Ma said he had watched the Tom Hanks movie at least 10 times.
“Every time I’m frustrated, I watch the movie,” he said. “I watched the movie again before I came here. It’s telling me: ‘No matter what changes, you are you.’”
This article was written by Dominic Rushe in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 19th September 2014 21.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010