A $5bn debt sale by Alibaba drew more than $38bn in orders from investors, illustrating how the Chinese tech group’s bonds remain an alluring proposition for global capital even as regulators pile on pressure.
The bumper dollar debt issuance, one of the largest in Asia in 2021, came as the company feels the heat from Chinese authorities. Regulators suspended the $37bn stock market listing of its payments affiliate Ant Group in November and launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba in December. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire founder, has disappeared almost entirely from the public spotlight in recent months.
Bankers familiar with the deal said they were initially uncertain whether increased scrutiny of Ma’s empire and China’s wider ecommerce sector would weigh on demand for the bonds, which priced on Friday. Alibaba earlier scaled back the debt sale from up to $8bn.
But investors appeared to put those concerns aside, with bids for the bonds amounting to more than seven times the value on offer. “It illustrates how highly regarded big China tech names like Alibaba remain for investors,” one banker said.
Yields on all four of the bond tranches came in lower than initially guided by bankers, underscoring high demand for returns as a flood of central bank liquidity in response to the coronavirus pandemic depressed global interest rates.
Yields on the 10- 30- and 40-year bond tranches totalling $4bn were 0.3 percentage points below initial guidance. The yield on a ten-year, $1.5bn bond priced at 2.143 per cent, 1 percentage point above that on the equivalent maturity US Treasury.
People directly familiar with the deal said it had drawn substantial demand from investors looking to adhere to environmental, social and governance principles. The yield on a 20-year, $1bn sustainability tranche — tied to green projects — dropped 0.4 percentage points from earlier guidance. It priced 1 percentage point above the equivalent Treasury yield.
Proceeds from the remaining $4bn will be used to boost Alibaba’s working capital and repay offshore debts. Alibaba also increased the size of its share buyback programme from $6bn to $10bn in December.
Wong Kok Hoi, chief investment officer at APS Asset Management in Singapore, said the bond sale was about “Alibaba raising as much capital as they can when the environment is favourable”. He added: “As the old saying goes, 'make hay — as much as you can — while the sun shines’.”
Alibaba’s New York-listed stock is down about 14 per cent since Ant’s IPO suspension. The shares recovered some ground after Ant reached a deal with regulators to restructure its business this week.
In its most recent quarterly earnings, Alibaba posted a 37 per cent year-on-year gain in revenue, beating analysts’ forecasts. However, that figure was boosted by the inclusion of sales from supermarket chain Sun Art, without which Alibaba would have recorded one of its slowest rates of quarterly growth since the company’s IPO in 2014.
Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and China International Capital were among the underwriters on the bond sale.