One of China’s Internet successes has been the Alibaba Group, which includes the Alibaba and Taobao ecommerce and online auction sites. Back in 2005, Internet giant Yahoo wanted to establish a significant foothold in the Chinese market, so it put down $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in the Alibaba Group—a stake it holds to this day despite significant frictions between the companies. Now, at the Alibaba shareholder meeting in Shenzen, China, company CFO Joe Tsai said Alibaba would like to buy out Yahoo’s share and list the company on the mainland China stock exchange. The listing would be a way to assert Alibaba’s Chinese identity and help the company shed an image that it is beholden to American business interests.
The company currently trades on the Hong Kong stock exchange, although it is technically a Cayman Islands corporation.
Yahoo and Alibaba have had their share of frictions, with Alibaba—which runs Yahoo China—cooperating with Chinese authorities to turn over information on account holders that has been used to put Chinese bloggers in prison. Alibaba also considered spinning loose of Yahoo back in 2008 when Microsoft made an enormous unsolicited takeover offer for Yahoo, and the companies have since butted heads in the wake of cyberattacks perpetrated against Google and other U.S. firms operating in China: Yahoo backed Google’s position, while Alibaba characterized both Google and Yahoo’s stances as “reckless.”
Yahoo has looked at its Alibaba investment as a way to have a significant presence in the Chinese market without actually having to operate there. If Alibaba were to buy out Yahoo’s share of the company, Yahoo would be forced to consider whether to run its own operations in China, or potentially seek another partner. Both propositions are tricky, especially given the latest chapter in Google’s struggle with Chinese authorities, which has the company no longer redirecting search traffic to Hong Kong in an effort to keep its license to operate in China.
So far, Yahoo has expressed no interest in selling its portion of Alibaba.