When Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding revealed plans earlier this year to go public on a U.S. stock exchange, financial advisers like Bob Mecca in Hoffman Estate, Illinois braced themselves for a wave of frantic calls from retail investors wanting to get in on the action.
Alibaba, which sells more than Amazon.com Inc and EBay Inc combined, could raise over $21 billion in its IPO. It is often described as technology's hottest initial public offering since Facebook Inc’s 2012 debut, although initial pricing announced on Friday was less than many predicted.
Retail investors generally get only 10-20 percent of shares in big IPOs, and several advisers told Reuters they had expected a scramble from clients. But the phone has not been ringing off the hook.
“People are on Facebook, they know it, but no one has ever heard of Alibaba," said Mecca, who has $175 million in assets under management.
The number of client inquiries about the Alibaba IPO is around a quarter of what it was for Facebook at this stage of the process and about half of what it was for Twitter Inc, said Steve Quirk, senior vice president of the group serving active traders at discount broker TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.
Robert Christie, a spokesman for Alibaba, declined to comment, citing the company’s pre-IPO quiet period.
Alibaba’s decision to price its shares between $60 and $66 per American Depository Share is an indication that the company may not be too concerned about having a big U.S. retail investor base, since retail investors prefer stocks that cost much less per share. Alibaba could have raised the same amount of money by selling more shares at a lower price.
One consequence of retail investors sitting out the debut could be a muted first day of trade, rather than the "pop" many expect from a tech IPO.
“Because it is such a large deal and you aren’t going to see a lot of retail investor interest, I do not think it’s going to have a lot of momentum when it gets out of the gate,” said Tom Taulli, an independent IPO expert.
Longer term, tepid U.S. retail interest could be a drawback for Alibaba. Individuals tend to hold stocks longer, providing stability to the share price, and they help diversify the shareholder base. Having too much concentration among a small number of institutional investors, for example, could make the company vulnerable to attacks by activists, IPO experts said.
"I think a strong retail base is much better for Alibaba," said Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based IPOX Schuster LLC, which helps create index funds for IPOs.
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