Alibaba's Ma says IPO of Ant Financial unlikely in 2015

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Jack Ma, chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, said on Monday he hoped the company’s financial affiliate would list in Asia at some point, but that no decision on the timing or location had been made.

The logo of the Alibaba Group is seen inside the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song/Files

The comments follow a Bloomberg report last week quoting unidentified sources as saying Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, known as Ant Financial, was planning an initial public offering (IPO) next year and the company had an estimated value of about $50 billion.

“Ant Financial is still a baby today with great potential. It’s just too early to talk about who it’s going to get married to,” Ma said. Asked if a listing would happen this year, he responded: “I don’t think so.”

Set up in 2014, Ant Financial has been growing rapidly, largely through targeting smaller businesses and hundreds of millions of consumers who are often underserved by China’s larger banks. Ant runs the Alipay online payment platform, the linked Yu’e Bao money market fund and other services.

Alibaba spun out Alipay, seen as a corporate crown jewel, in 2011. Its executives, including Ma, maintain control. As part of an agreement in August between Alibaba and Ant Financial, Alibaba shares 37.5 percent of the unit’s profit or can in the future take a direct stake in it.

Alibaba held its own record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering in September.

In recent days, the issue of fake goods and other illegal business on Alibaba platforms has come under the spotlight after the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), a government regulator, published reports saying the problem was widespread and the company wasn’t doing enough to fight it.

One of the SAIC reports, published last Wednesday, sparked concern that Alibaba had failed to disclose risk factors to its investors prior to its bumper listing in September, and several law firms have said they will take action.

Alibaba has denied any wrongdoing.

“If we have the guts to list the company, we should not be afraid of lawsuits. This is the kind courage that a Chinese company should have,” Ma said.

“We welcome it, and we will deal with it actively and transparently.”

Writing by John Ruwitch in Shanghai Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter