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Jack Ma (center) Jack Ma
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's (BABA.N) shares soared 38 percent in their first day of trading on Friday as investors jumped at the chance for a piece of what is likely to rank as the largest IPO in history Jordi Alba España Camiseta , in a massive bet on China's burgeoning middle class.


It was an auspicious debut for the Chinese e-commerce company, which was founded by Jack Ma in his apartment in 1999 and now accounts for 80 percent of online sales in China.


About 100 people gathered outside the New York Stock Exchange at Wall and Broad Streets, many of them Chinese tourists with cameras, and they cheered and snapped photos when Ma exited the building with the kung fu star Jet Li.


The stock opened at $92.70 shortly before noon ET (17:00 p.m. BST) and quickly rose to a high of $99.70, before paring gains to close at $93.89. Some 271 million shares changed hands, more than double the turnover on Twitter Inc's (TWTR.N) first day last year Iago Aspas España Camiseta , although still short of volume for the General Motors Co (GM.N) and Facebook Inc (FB.O) IPOs.


"This is the most anticipated event I’ve ever seen in my 20-year career on the floor of the NYSE," said Mark Otto, partner with J. Streicher & Co, who trades on the NYSE floor. "I think today’s move is sustainable: The company is profitable, unlike some of its competitors, and it is a way for traders to tap into the Chinese growth story."


The pricing of the IPO on Thursday initially raised $21.8 billion (13.38 billion pounds) for Alibaba. Scott Cutler Alberto Moreno España Camiseta , head of the New York Stock Exchange's global listing business, told CNBC that underwriters would exercise their option for an additional 48 million shares, to bring the IPO's size to about $25 billion, making it the largest initial public offering in history.


But a source close to the matter said the underwriters would make a final decision on whether to exercise the option over the next week or two, based on how the shares trade over the next few sessions.


Alibaba is nearly unknown to most Americans but is ubiquitous in China. The company, which operates China's largest Internet shopping destination Sergio Ramos España Camiseta , Taobao, and retail site Tmall, earned $3.7 billion in the 12 months ended March 31, 2014, up about $2 billion from the prior 12-month period.


At its closing share price on Friday, Alibaba has a market value of $231 billion Nacho Fernandez España Camiseta , exceeding the combined market capitalizations of Amazon (AMZN.O) and eBay (EBAY.O), the two leading U.S. e-commerce companies.


Alibaba is valued at 39 times its estimated earnings per share for its current fiscal year, which ends in March. That is right in line with Facebook's (FB.O) valuation of 39 times forward earnings but nowhere near the lofty valuation of Amazon's (AMZN.O) multiple of 264, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data.


TRYING TO CHART THE STOCK'S FUTURE


The future path of Alibaba's shares is truly uncharted territory.


"It's very difficult to predict," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco. "Is it going to trade based upon its true fundamental value Kepa Arrizabalaga España Camiseta , or is it going to become one of these cult stocks a la Tesla or Solar City, or some of these names where there really isn't a fundamental grounding to the valuation?


"And it's very difficult to see what bucket these guys are going to fall into," Massocca added. "My guess is there's a very high likelihood it does fall into this bucket, which would lead you to believe it does trade higher. But if you were to base it on a fundamental valuation, I would call it slightly overvalued at this price."


Morningstar analyst RJ Hottovy said that while he expected Alibaba to further grow revenues, it was entering an aggressive new investment stage that would likely pinch margins over the next couple of quarters.


Ma Luis Alberto España Camiseta , a former English teacher who is now the company's executive chairman, boasts a personal fortune of more than $14 billion on paper, vaulting him into the ranks of such tech billionaires as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. The deal is also expected to make millionaires out of a substantial chunk of Alibaba's managers, software engineers and other staff.


The rise in the stock exceeds the average gain by new IPOs on U.S. exchanges of late. In the second quarter, the average first-day gain was 9.2 percent, according to Renaissance Capital IPO Intelligence. Underwriters usually aim for a gain of 10 percent to 15 percent on the first day.


Twitter last year saw its shares surge 73 percent on their first trading day.


Demand was intense among retail investors. J.J. Kinahan Vitolo España Camiseta , chief market strategist at retail brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD.N), said the company received customer orders amounting to about 70 percent of what it saw for Facebook and about three times the customer orders it had for Twitter's IPO.


Assuming underwriters elect to sell additional shares, the company's initial public offering will become the largest in history, surpassing listings by Agricultural Bank of China Ltd's in 2010 and by ICBC , another Chinese lender, in 2006.


WHAT HAPPENED IN HONG KONG


Alibaba Group's orange banners were festooned around the exchange Thiago Alcantara España Camiseta , with its logo on NYSE computer screens. Ma watched several long-time customers ring the opening bell at 9:30 a.m.


"I don't want disappointed shareholders, I want to make sure they make money," Ma said of the pricing, on CNBC, adding that he worries most about keeping customers happy.


Similar euphoria greeted Alibaba when its stock debuted on the stock exchange in Hong Kong in November 2007 on the eve of the global financial crisis. The stock more than tripled on day one, but five years later Ma delisted the company at the IPO price after failing to impress investors.


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7. May 2018, 07:01
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