Alibaba to upgrade its Hong Kong listing to parity with New York

And ponders more listings in China – the day after Beijing announces super-regulator for tech

Chinese web giant Alibaba has announced it wants to upgrade its listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKSE) to primary status – putting it on par with its New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) presence.

Alibaba listed on the NYSE in 2014 and set up a secondary listing on the HKSE in 2019.

Today, the e-commerce giant published a filing [PDF] in which it detailed average daily trading volume in Hong Kong of $0.7 billion, compared to an around $3.2 billion in the United States.

The company thinks it should be doing better close to home.

"Given the substantial presence of its business operations in Greater China, the Company expects that its dual-primary listing status would allow it to broaden its investor base, and facilitate incremental liquidity, in particular expand access to China and other Asia-based investors," the filing states.

Left unsaid is that while China retains its "One country, two systems" arrangements that theoretically allow Hong Kong and Macau to determine their own legislative agendas, Hong Kong has been brought under Beijing's control. A primary listing in Hong Kong will therefore mean China is better positioned to exercise control over Alibaba.

Greater control is very much desired by Beijing, which in recent years has imposed many regulations on its tech sector and made it harder for prominent technology tycoons to share their opinions.

Yesterday China took another step to regulate its tech sector, announcing the formation of what the State Council – essentially China's Cabinet Office – describes as "an inter-ministerial joint conference system on the development of the digital economy."

The body will be led by China's National Development and Reform Commission and will oversee the tech-related regulatory efforts of 20 departments.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, State Taxation Administration, and Securities Regulatory Commission will all be guided by the new conference which, according to a State Council circular, has four jobs:

  • Implementing decisions of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council, regarding implementation of the digital economy development;
  • Coordinating formulation of plans and policies in key areas of the digital economy such as digital transformation, promotion of big data development, and setting agendas for annual digital economy development goals;
  • Coordinating major digital economy projects and pilot demonstrations;
  • Completing "other tasks assigned by the Party Central Committee and the State Council."

An annual conference meeting will ensure communication between the 20 departments managed by the conference, and they may also be asked to show up to ad hoc meetings.

Alibaba has already factored in the potential for the conference, or other changes in Beijing, to impact its business.

In its annual report [PDF], also published today, the company acknowledges that the risks of doing business in China include "Changes and developments in the political and economic policies of the PRC government, and uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations."

Another risk that rates a mention is "the possibility of a public offering and listing of our equity securities in Shanghai or Shenzhen." Which sounds like just the sort of thing Beijing's new conference might decide is necessary. ®

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