Alibaba.com shareholders approve buyout plan

There is growing specualtion that Alibaba may seek a share sale for the entire group

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Shareholders of Alibaba.com have agreed to the company's plan to buy back shares in a bid to take the firm private.

Parent firm Alibaba Group said it will pay about $2.5bn (£1.5bn) to complete the buyback, which is expected to be finalised next month.

Investors are being offered HK$13.50 per share, the same price as the its initial public offering in 2007.

Alibaba.com is one of China's biggest e-commerce websites.

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The portal connects small manufacturers with buyers around the world.

A growing global demand for Chinese goods in the past few years turned the firm into one of the most successful internet companies in China.

However, a slowdown in global economy has hurt its fortunes recently. Its net profit in the first quarter dipped by 25% to 339.2m yuan ($54m; £33m), down from 452.2m yuan a year earlier.

The firm has also warned that it was cautious on short-term growth prospects.

The downturn has hurt the company's market value. Its shares fell as low as HK$6.390 in September last year, almost half of their original floating price.

Start Quote

Taking the company private and the transaction with Yahoo is all a part of clearing the way for a future IPO for the entire group or for the consumer e-commerce part of the group”

End Quote Duncan Clark BDA

However, the stock bounced back earlier this year as the firm made the buyback offer to the shareholders.

"Anytime a company buys back shares from the shareholders, they are essentially saying they don't think the listed entity is a true representation of its full value," Duncan Clark of consultancy firm BDA told the BBC.

A bigger IPO?

Alibaba.com is the only publicly listed division of the Alibaba Group. While it has seen a slowdown, other divisions of the Group have enjoyed robust growth and success.

Its online payment service, Alipay, has gone on to become on the biggest players in the sector.

At the same time, its websites Taobao.com and Tmall.com, targeted at online retail, have seen a surge in popularity with some 48,000 deals taking place on them every minute.

Given the success of these units, there has been growing speculation that Alibaba may want to list Taobao, or even the entire Alibaba Group, on the stock exchange.

While the company has denied that it is planning any such move, analysts said that this could happen sometime in the future.

The speculation has increased even more in recent days after Alibaba agreed a deal to buy back half of its stake held by Yahoo.

"Taking the company private and the transaction with Yahoo is all a part of clearing the way for a future IPO for the entire group or for the consumer e-commerce part of the group," said Mr Clark of BDA.

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