Amazon's Little Brother Could be the Largest IPO in History

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) was up about 84 points in early afternoon trading following Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen's testimony this morning on Capitol Hill.

The Nasdaq (NASDAQINDEX: ^IXIC  ) was down over 1%, though, dragged by household names like Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  )  (down 2.9%) and Facebook (down 3.4%).

Speaking of giant global tech stocks
Giant Chinese Internet company Alibaba filed yesterday for its initial public offering, stating that it intends to raise $1 billion. It is not yet known if the company will trade on either the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, nor what the ticker symbol will be.

The $1 billion headline number is likely just a short-term placeholder for the company as the bankers and underwriters work the market to raise a whole lot more cash than that. 

For example, when Facebook filed its IPO in spring 2012, the company initially filed to raise just $5 billion, but it ended up with over $16 billion in cash proceeds.

What does Alibaba actually do?
Alibaba's stated mission is to "make it easy to do business anywhere." To do this, it offers retail e-commerce and mobile business, wholesale trade, cloud computing, and other services. Alibaba owns and operates a variety of websites in China and globally. 

The company's IPO filing did not break down the business by division or products, but it's fair to say the company's online retail segment is almost certainly the primary driver.

You can see the company's full list of websites here.

Does this all seem familiar? The model is not a far cry from Amazon.

In terms of size and scale, however, Alibaba has a long way to go before it catches up. For for the nine months ending Dec. 31, 2013, the company brought in $6.5 billion in revenue that generated $2.85 billion in profit. Amazon brought in $19.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter alone.

Still, Alibaba's numbers are impressive, and the company could certainly supercharge its growth with the capital proceeds from the IPO. With that growth, many observers see Alibaba as being a contender to enter the U.S. market and challenge Amazon like no other company could. 

How big would the IPO have to be the largest of all time?
The largest IPO of all time in terms of proceeds was the Agricultural Bank of China, which raised $22 billion in its 2010 offering, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

The largest U.S.-listed IPO of all time was Visa, which raised $19.6 billion in 2008. 

For comparison's sake (and as a reminder of how times have changed), Amazon's IPO filing in 1997 attempted to raise just $33 million. Of course, the company at that point was still just an online bookstore. 

Over the coming weeks Alibaba will disclose more information about its financials and operations. Until then it's too soon to know if Alibaba is a worthy investment, or if it will raise enough cash to make history. Stay tuned.

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