Alibaba.com shares halted; Yahoo update?

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG Thu Feb 9, 2012 2:25am EST

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Trading in shares of Alibaba.com Ltd was halted on Thursday pending an announcement regarding its parent, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which reportedly plans to buy back the 40 percent stake in it held by Yahoo Inc.

Sources told Reuters last month that Alibaba Group, founded by former English teacher and now billionaire Jack Ma, was looking to raise a $3 billion loan, which it would use to buy back part of the Yahoo-held stake. The sources said Alibaba aimed to put together a group of 6-7 banks by early February.

Thomson Reuters' LPC service reported last week that six banks - ANZ, Credit Suisse, DBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Mizuho Corporate Bank - were forming a mandated lead arranger group to back that $3 billion financing, citing market sources.

Yahoo's stake in Alibaba Group could be worth up to $13 billion, based on the $1.6 billion paid for a 5 percent stake in Alibaba by Yunfeng Capital, Silver Lake and other investors in November.

Alibaba.com gave no further details in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange, and a spokesman at Alibaba Group declined to comment on Thursday.

Shares in Alibaba.com jumped 5.5 percent on Wednesday, the biggest one-day percentage gain in more than 11 weeks, with some speculation a deal could come through, and some talk it could involve taking the listed unit private. The stock closed at HK$9.25, its highest close since November 15.

"The company may want to clarify in response to market speculation that Alibaba will buy back shares from Yahoo," said Alicia Hu, analyst at Daiwa Securities Markets in Hong Kong.

Still, the announcement this week that Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock and three other directors will step down, following the hiring of new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, meant the company would likely need time to commit to any moves, Hu said.

Alibaba, Yahoo and Japan's Softbank Corp, which owns a 30 percent stake in Alibaba and is a partner in Yahoo Japan, have been looking to unwind their complex web of relationships.

Under pressure from investors, Yahoo's board has been considering various options to turn around the struggling company, including restructuring its valuable Asia holdings.

There has also been speculation the planned Alibaba fund raising may be aimed at delisting Alibaba.com, a possible precursor to listing the parent company, though many analysts dismissed such a move as being too costly and unnecessary.

Reuters reported in December that Blackstone Group LP and Bain Capital were preparing a bid for all of Yahoo, with Alibaba and Japan's Softbank Corp among its partners, for an around $25 billion deal.

(Reporting by Samuel Shen in Shanghai and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong; Editing by Jason Subler and Ian Geoghegan)

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