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.
The ecommerce group’s New York-listed shares are down about a fifth since late October. Its Hong Kong-traded stock fell 3.9 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. Lina Choi, senior Moody’s vice-president, said the issuance would “improve Alibaba’s debt maturity profile”, meaning more of the bonds it owed would be long-term ones.
But she added 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”.
Mr Ma has stepped almost entirely out of the public spotlight since the cancellation of the Ant initial public offering, which was expected to be the world’s biggest ever.
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.
Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and China International Capital are among the underwriters on the bond sale, according to the filing.
Alibaba’s bond issue builds on similar moves by Big Tech groups including Chinese peer Tencent and Google, which took advantage of record-low interest rates last year to raise billions of dollars.
The company faces domestic competition from fast-growing rival Pinduoduo in its core ecommerce business, while Meituan is seeking to overtake Alibaba-owned Ele.me in China’s food delivery market.