"Tomorrow is going to be a big day for gauging the appetite for quality Chinese equities," I wrote yesterday, waiting on Alibaba.com's anxiously anticipated IPO.
So how is that appetite? Voracious, and that's putting it mildly. Hungry investors donning messy bibs chased China's top B2B (business-to-business) website 193% higher on its first trading day. (I'll let you come up with your own "after-dinner mint" joke here.)
The market's feast means that Alibaba.com left a lot on the table when it sold a 17% stake in the company for a mere $1.5 billion. The company shouldn't be smarting too badly, though. It has gone from a $9 billion company to a $25 billion company overnight.
With comparable financials to Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU ) , suddenly China's leading search engine doesn't seem so insanely valued with its $14 billion market cap!
And now for an encore
Stateside investors can't be too happy. Alibaba.com isn't even trading on a stateside exchange, and it's already packing a market capitalization that stacks up to some of the seasoned dot-com juggernauts.
Buying into Alibaba.com now isn't a ground-floor opportunity. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is the largest Internet stock on the planet, yet even Big G commanded a smaller market cap of $23 billion when it went public three summers ago.
Don't get me wrong. Alibaba.com is an amazing growth company. It's the only online marketplace that matters when it comes to moving goods in and out of China. It's an easy story stock to tell. Even if the next few months are bumpy, I have little doubt that Alibaba.com will be one of the great global Internet companies in a few years.
So what's an investor to do? The beauty of the IPO is that Alibaba.com just padded its coffers with a ton of dough. With 60% of the proceeds earmarked for acquisitions -- and a hot stock to prime the well for equity-based buyouts -- Alibaba.com won't have to just grow organically in the future.
I detailed some of the corporate coattails heading into the IPO yesterday. Now let's sneak a peak at some of the acquisition targets that may fit with Alibaba's plans.
Let's go shopping with Alibaba.com
Snapping up smaller rivals isn't mission-critical. Alibaba.com already commands the lion's share of the market. Its best move to justify its suddenly chunky market cap is to expand globally. Japan is an obvious target. It's the first non-Chinese market that Baidu expanded to earlier this year.
There isn't a whole lot to speculate about regarding Alibaba.com in Japan, though. With the Yahoo! Japan team of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Softbank anchored as significant investors in Alibaba.com's parent company, you're looking at the likely shoehorns there.
So what's worth buying out there? Sadly, there aren't too many country-specific titans in B2B that trade publicly. The nearest fit will be C2C (consumer-to-consumer) sites that facilitate the auction exchange of goods between consumers. eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) is too big, but there are a few regional fruits just waiting to be plucked.
Two strong buyout candidates there would be South Korea's Gmarket (Nasdaq: GMKT ) and South America's MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI ) . It doesn't hurt that Yahoo! is also an investor in Gmarket, making the regionally attractive market a perfect fit.
However, C2C and B2B aren't just alphabetical kissing cousins. Alibaba.com's parent company also runs Taobao, China's most popular C2C auction site. Things could get incestuously tricky if Alibaba tries to grow C2C wings closer to home.
In the end, Alibaba.com is likely to just nibble away at Eastern upstarts that can help it broaden its reach (both within China and abroad). It has the money. It has the girth. It has the connections.
As investors, we can only lament the all-too-quick ascent of Alibaba.com. It's like a pair of lovestruck elders who finally hook up at their 50-year high school reunion -- one can only wonder how things would have played out if Alibaba.com had given us the chance to get something started sooner.
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