Hong Kong/Shanghai: Yahoo Inc’s sale of its stake inChina’s top e-commerce company Alibaba.com came as a surprise to Alibaba executives, highlighting a growing strain between the two Internet firms and sending Alibaba.com shares down more than 12% on Tuesday.
Alibaba was only informed of the sale on Thursday—the day of its 10th anniversary—with the news relayed via a lower level executive, said a source close to the company, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the issue.
“It’s like telling your wife she looks fat on her birthday,” he said. The source said the share sale, worth about $150 million, reinforced a view in the company that Yahoo did not view Alibaba as a strategic partner, although Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said last week it viewed the company as a very important investment.
Yahoo and Alibaba had a better working relationship under ex-Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang, who was present at Alibaba’s anniversary celebrations, the source said.
“Yahoo Inc is a passive investor in Alibaba Group,” Alibaba.com said in response to a query from Reuters.
Yahoo still holds a 40% stake in unlisted Alibaba Group, which controls about 74% of Alibaba.com.
Yahoo said on Monday it would sell its 1% direct holding in Alibaba.com to take advantage of a near quadrupling in Alibaba’s share price this year.
Yahoo’s stake sale comes a few days after Jack Ma, Alibaba’s chairman and founder, sold 13 million of his shares, or less than 5% of his total holdings, in the company for $35 million.
“I have no need for the money, I did it to give other people a chance to share my opinion about what a good company this is,” Ma told a press conference on Friday.
The share sale by Ma, one of the best known figures in Chinese Internet circles, was his first of shares in the company he founded in 1999.
According to Analysys International, China’s B2B e-commerce market was worth 1.4 billion yuan ($205 million) in the second quarter, with Alibaba.com having a 62% share. Globally, it competes with many privately-held companies and partly with Amazon.
Shares in Alibaba.com ended 11% lower on Tuesday in a broader market down 0.3%. More than 100 million shares were traded in Alibaba.com compared to an average daily volume of 16 million over the past 30 days.
Analysts said Yahoo’s stake sale did not suggest a fundamental weakness in Alibaba.com’s business.
“At Alibaba.com’s Alifest last week, they (management) were quite bullish on the outlook as well, so I think Alibaba.com growth will still be strong,” said JP Morgan analyst Dick Wei.
Alibaba Group also owns Taobao, China’s top online auction site, and Alipay, an e-payment system fast gaining traction with Chinese Internet shoppers.
Goldman Sachs said that although Monday’s deal might signal Bartz’s willingness to divest more of Yahoo’s $13 billion stake in unconsolidated Asia holdings, it would view potentially selling stakes in Yahoo Japan and Alibaba Group as more challenging as they were far bigger and had greater tax implications.
“The Chinese government and Alibaba Group management could require pre-approving potential buyers of the Alibaba Group stake, limiting the potential investor base and thus the valuation,” Goldman said in a note.
Yahoo sold all its 57.5 million shares in Alibaba.com for HK$1.14 billion, or HK$19.8 each—a 6.4% discount to Monday’s close, a source close to the deal said.
Yahoo is one of the cornerstone investors, which as a group own 157.8 million shares, or 3.13%, of the company, according to JP Morgan.
Yahoo bought the Alibaba shares at HK$13.50 each and is expected to make a profit on the sale of about $50 million before tax, Goldman Sachs estimated.