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Jack Ma steps down as Alibaba (BABA) chairman: History of the company

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2019 is a big year for Alibaba. The Chinese e-commerce giant is celebrating its twentieth anniversary and its high-profile founder Jack Ma, is stepping down as chairman on Tuesday.

Since its founding in 1999, Alibaba has gone from being a traditional e-commerce company to a conglomerate that has businesses from logistics to food delivery and cloud computing. It is now a company valued over $460 billion.

Here are some of key moments in Alibaba’s history.

April 1999: The journey begins

Alibaba founder Jack Ma holds a meeting in his apartment in 1999, the year the Chinese e-commerce giant was established.

Alibaba

Alibaba was established by a group of 18 founders led by Jack Ma. The group worked out of Ma’s apartment in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba is now headquartered.

Its first website was Alibaba.com, an English-language wholesale marketplace. That same year, Alibaba launched a domestic wholesale market place.

January 2000: SoftBank invests

Alibaba founder Jack Ma and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son shake hands after the Japanese conglomerate led a $20 million funding round into the company in January 2000.

Alibaba

Alibaba got a $20 million investment from a group of investors led by SoftBank.

“We didn’t talk about revenues, we didn’t even talk about a business model,” said Ma about SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal at the time. “We just talked about a shared vision. Both of us make quick decisions.”

That investment helped Alibaba to grow.

May 2003: Taobao is born

Taobao is an online shopping platform in China run by Alibaba, where third-party sellers can push their products.

In Alibaba’s 2015 fiscal year, Taobao’s gross merchandise volume reached 1.59 trillion yuan ($223.9 billion). That has grown to 3.11 trillion yuan in the 2019 fiscal year.

Revenue from Taobao is a crucial part of Alibaba’s core commerce business.

December 2004: Alipay launch

Alipay is one of China’s two big payments platforms, along with rival WeChat Pay which is owned by Tencent. It’s a system based on QR codes, a kind of bar code, that’s found at merchants’ payment counters. Buyers in stores can scan the code to make payments. But Alipay can also be used in online stores.

However, Alipay has proved to be a controversial asset throughout Alibaba’s history, causing the company and its founder Ma, to clash with key shareholders Yahoo and SoftBank.

August 2005: Yahoo becomes biggest shareholder

Alibaba.com founder Jack Ma (L) and Yahoo’s chief operating officer at the time Daniel Rosensweig during a joint press conference to announce their deal in Beijing, 11 August 2005. Yahoo Inc signed a deal to buy 40 percent of Alibaba.com for $1 billion cash while handing over the running of its China operations to the Chinese online retailer.

AFP | Getty Images

Yahoo poured $1 billion into Alibaba for a 40% stake in the company, making it the e-commerce firm’s largest shareholder.

As part of the deal, Alibaba took control of Yahoo’s China business.

“Together, we will create one of the largest Internet companies in China, and our combined assets will make us the only company that has a leading position in all the key sectors that are driving explosive Internet growth in China such as search, commerce and communications,” Terry Semel, Yahoo’s CEO at the time said in a press release.

November 2007: Hong Kong IPO

Before Alibaba’s debut in the U.S. in 2014, it carried out an initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong in 2007.

The public listing raised $13.1 billion Hong Kong dollars in gross proceeds. On its opening day, Alibaba shares surged from the offer price of $13.50 Hong Kong dollars to as high as $39.50 Hong Kong dollars.

April 2008: The birth of Tmall

Alibaba launched a product called Taobao Mall which was spun off years later and became Tmall. Along with Taobao, Tmall is now one of Alibaba’s most important e-commerce properties in terms of revenue.

Tmall has positioned itself as a place where foreign brands can set up an online store and sell to Chinese consumers.

Luxury fashion brands, electronics makers and even Starbucks are on Tmall.

September 2009: Cloud business launched

Alibaba launched its cloud business in 2009 and it is now one of the biggest in China.

Cloud computing is the second-largest revenue source for the company, and its fastest-growing businesses.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang told CNBC last year that cloud will be the firm’s “main business” in the future.

“Cloud computing is our long-term strategy. We strongly believe that every business in the future will be powered by cloud,” he said.

November 2009: Singles Day extravaganza

Singles Day — also known as the Double 11 festival — is China’s largest shopping event of the year. It was pioneered by current Alibaba CEO Zhang.

Retailers offer huge discounts on that day, and it’s turned into a multibillion dollar festival.

Alibaba saw gross merchandising value — the value of goods sold via its platforms — hit $7.8 million in the 2009 edition of Singles Day. That figure stood at $30.8 billion for the 2018 event, according to the exchange rate at the time.

“I never expected that we could actually transform this day into a commercial day … for the whole society,” Zhang told CNBC in an interview last year.

May 2011: Alipay controversy

Alibaba sold control of Alipay to a group controlled by Jack Ma. At the time, the company said it was because of new rules issued by the country’s central bank — the People’s Bank of China. The regulations for third-party online payment required them to get specific licenses.

However Yahoo, Alibaba’s biggest shareholder at the time, said the sale of Alipay happened without its knowledge, a statement that the Chinese e-commerce giant denied.

The episode raised concerns about Alibaba’s governance structure.

Yahoo, SoftBank and Alibaba eventually came to a deal that same year: Alibaba would be paid at least $2 billion but no more than $6 billion if Alipay went public; Alipay was also required to pay licensing fees and continue serving Taobao.

June 2012: Hong Kong delisting

Just five years after its debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Alibaba took the company private through a de-listing.

The company paid $2.45 billion to buy the 27% of Alibaba.com held by the public. This equated to $13.50 Hong Kong dollars a share, the same offering price for the IPO back in 2007.

“Taking Alibaba.com private will allow our company to make long-term decisions that are in the best interest of our customers and that are also free from the pressures that come from having a publicly listed company,” Ma said in comments at the time.

September 2012: Alibaba’s Yahoo buyback

Alibaba bought back half of Yahoo’s 40% stake for $7.6 billion. Yahoo received approximately $6.3 billion in cash and $800 million in preference shares in Alibaba.

This was a big return for Yahoo after its initial $1 billion investment in 2005.

September 2014: New York IPO

Chinese online retail giant Alibaba CEO Jack Ma (C) waves as he arrives at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on September 19, 2014.

Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images

Alibaba went public on the New York Stock exchange in what was the biggest IPO in history.

The e-commerce giant raised around $25 billion in its New York IPO. It’s now one of Asia’s largest technology firms by valuation.

Alibaba’s stock is up over 150% from its $68 per share listing price.

October 2014: Ant Financial is created

After the controversial spin-off of Alipay, Ant Financial was created to encompass not just the payment system but other financial services.

The creation of this affiliate company signaled Alibaba’s intentions to push into financial technology or fintech.

Ant Financial, now China’s largest fintech firm, is reportedly valued at around $150 billion.

August 2015: $4.6 billion Suning deal

Alibaba invested 28.3 billion yuan, which was around $4.56 billion, into Chinese bricks-and-mortar electronics retailer Suning. This followed an investment the year before into department store chain, Intime.

It signaled Alibaba’s intent to push on with its so-called “new retail” strategy where it looks to merge its online business with offline stores. The aim is to bring together payments, e-commerce, food delivery and other parts of its business into one big ecosystem.

It’s a strategy that the company continues to push on with today.

April 2016: International push

Since it’s founding 20 years ago, Alibaba’s focus has very much been on its domestic market: helping foreign and local brands sell to Chinese consumers.

But in April 2016, the company took a controlling stake in Singapore-based Lazada, an e-commerce company that serves several markets in Southeast Asia.

That marked Alibaba’s first major international push in the e-commerce space.

February 2018: Alibaba buys Ant stake

Alibaba bought a 33% stake in Ant Financial. It was able to do so because of a clause in a contract between the two companies from 2014 when Ant was created.

There have been reports that Ant Financial is gearing up for an IPO, though the company has not made any official announcements.

September 2019: Jack Ma steps down as chairman

In September 2018, Alibaba said Jack Ma will step down as chairman of the board one year later — on September 10, 2019.

Current CEO Zhang takes Ma’s place as chairman.

Ma intends to stay on the Alibaba board of directors until the 2020 annual shareholders meeting.

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China’s Greater Bay Area has opportunities despite slowing economy

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Xiao Wuhan, Executive Vice Chairman of Asia-Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation speaks with Qian Chen, reporter of CNBC.

Zhong Zhi | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Even amid a slowing Chinese economy and ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong, there are still many business and investment opportunities in the country’s Greater Bay Area, said Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF).

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area is made up of nine Chinese cities in Guangdong province and two special administrative territories, Hong Kong and Macau.

At the East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China, Xiao told CNBC in Mandarin, that the Greater Bay Area is not only serving Guangdong province but it is an integral economic, historical and political part of China.

He added that the region has always been a “window” for China to the outside world and vice versa. Historically, Guangdong has always been a port of entry and a big trading hub. And while Nansha is a leading innovative area in the province, he said there are many more opportunities and beyond the district as well.

China’s economic transition

Beijing has said the Chinese economy has been undergoing a supply side reform for many years now, and Xiao said that during the transition, the economy “will suffer some short-term pain.”

He pointed out that, “especially for conventional sectors and labor intensive industries, and there will be pressure to push for stricter environmental protection regulations,” according to CNBC’s translation.

Employees work on a mobile phone assembly line at a Huawei Technologies Co. production base in Dongguan, China.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Xiao, who used to work in the Chinese government, said the country’s continued heavy reliance on manufacturing will be “unsustainable,” and on top of that China is faced with an aging population.

Therefore, a “transition is inevitable, it’s a must,” said Xiao.

He added that the timing of the transition is the key to success. Across sectors, Xiao said innovation and efficiency are vital for the Chinese economy to transition smoothly.

Hong Kong unrest

The APECF executive told CNBC that “looking back at history in the past 1,000 years, I don’t think that the short-term chaos in Hong Kong would really have a huge impact on the Greater Bay Area.”

In fact, he said that he thinks “once the conflict settles, the future of Hong Kong will be supported by many policies. It will be supported by stronger and more favorable policies by the government. And I think the Greater Bay Area will have Hong Kong’s support in the future.”

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Prince Andrew interview on Jeffrey Epstein fallout: Sponsors drop him

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HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York visits the Showground on the final day of the 161st Great Yorkshire Show on July 11, 2019 in Harrogate, England.

Ian Forsyth | Getty Images

Corporate sponsors of Prince Andrew of Britain’s initiative to boost entrepreneurship are reconsidering their relationship with the project on the heels of a botched television interview about his former friend, sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein.

The auditing firm KPMG is not renewing its sponsorshop of Andrew’s Pitch@Palace and “made the decision following adverse press scrutiny around Prince Andrew,” SkyNews reported Monday. KPMG did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

A spokesman for pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca, told CNBC, “Our three year partnership with pitch@palace is due to expire at the end of this year and is currently being reviewed.”

The logo of insurance broker Aon, which had been prominently featured on the Pitch@Palace website as a “global partner,” is no longer there.

A person familiar with the company said that Aon — before Andrew’s recent interview — asked for the removal of its logo, which Aon believed had been prematurely posted. The person said that the company never finalized an agreement to be a sponsor.

The bank Standard Chartered declined to comment to CNBC. Requests for comment from Barclays, Tencent, Hult International Business School, Inmarsat and Bosch Group were not immediately answered.

Andrew, son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, is just one of a number of high-profile people whose past friendship with Epstein came under renewed scrutiny after the wealthy investor’s arrest in July on federal child sex trafficking charges.

Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton were also friends with Epstein before he pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage prostitute in Florida.

Andrew, in his interview with BBC Newsnight that aired over the weekend, denied having sex with one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre in 2001, and discussed his decision to sever ties with Epstein after his conviction in Florida.

But the interview sparked widespread criticism over Andrew’s answers and demeanor, particularly when he pooh-poohed Giuffre’s claim that he was “sweating all over me” on a London dance floor around the time of their alleged sexual encounter.

Andrew said he was incapable of sweating in most cases at that time because of an “overdose of adrenaline” as a result of a stress reaction he experienced while being shot at during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982.

“I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady. None whatsoever,” said Andrew, who is also known as the Duke of York.

But there is a photo of a young Giuffre and Andrew together. Both of them are smiling and Andrew has his arm around Giuffre, as the royal’s friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, stands behind them.

Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislain Maxwell.

Source: Attained through court documents.

Giuffre and other Epstein accusers have said Maxwell directed them to have sex with various friends of her former boyfriend and confidant Epstein. Giuffre has said she had sex with Andrew at Maxwell’s behest.

Andrew also said that he had spent four nights at Epstein’s massive townhouse in Manhattan when he went there to end his friendship with him.

“It was a convenient place to stay,” Andew said, when asked why he stayed with Epstein for multiple days, much less for any time at all.

Andrew said that in hindsight, that was “the wrong thing to do.”

“I admit fully that my judgment was probably colored by my tendency to be too honorable but that’s just the way it is,” Andrew said.

Dickie Arbiter, who previously was press officer at Buckingham Palace, said in a tweet that the interview was “not so much a car crash but an articulated lorry crash.”

“Lorry” is the British term for truck.

Andrew agreed to the interview on the heels of continued publicity regarding Giuffre’s claims that he had sex with her at Maxwell’s home in London.

Epstein, 66, died in August from what authorities have ruled was a suicide by hanging while being held in a federal jail in Manhattan.

Epstein had been held in that jail since early July, when he was arrested on sex trafficking charges.

Prosecutors alleged that Epstein had sexually abused dozens of underage girls at his Manhattan residence and in his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion from 2002 through 2005.

Epstein’s death remains under investigation. A forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother has said that the injuries that caused Epstein’s death are more commonly seen in cases of homicide than in suicide.

Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also are continuing to investigate the allegations that Epstein’s crimes were abetted by employees and other associates, who allegedly provided him with a steady stream of young women and girls to satisfy his obsessive sexual cravings.

Last week, the co-executors of Epstein’s estate asked a judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands to approve the creation of a compensation fund for his sex abuse victims.

More than a dozen women are now suing Epstein’s estate, claiming he abused them. The estate is valued at upward of $570 million.

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Alibaba to close books early for $13.8 billion Hong Kong listing

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A logo of Alibaba Group is seen during Alibaba Group’s 11.11 Singles’ Day global shopping festival at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, November 11, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

Alibaba will close its order books to institutional investors early for its upcoming secondary listing in Hong Kong, a sign that demand for shares is strong, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC.

The e-commerce giant will close its book at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday, earlier than initially planned, the sources, who wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said. One of the sources who spoke to CNBC said the book will close half a day earlier than originally scheduled.

An Alibaba spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

“The book is well-covered,” one source said. “The international offering received strong feedback.”

Alibaba got the greenlight from Hong Kong regulators for the secondary listing last week, CNBC previously reported.

News of Alibaba’s plans to close the books early was first reported by Reuters.

The Chinese e-commerce giant will issue 500 million new ordinary shares plus 75 million “greenshoe” options. These give the underwriting banks the ability to sell more shares than the original amount set.

Of those 500 million shares, 12.5 million will be reserved for retail investors. Alibaba has the option to increase the portion available for retail investors to 50 million shares or 10% of the total offering.

The company previously said those retail shares will be priced at no more than 188 Hong Kong dollars (about $24.01). However, the remaining shares for institution investors, could be priced higher than that.

At 188 Hong Kong dollars a share, the total amount raised will be around $13.8 billion if the greenshoe option is exercised.

Alibaba will set the final offer price by Nov. 20 Hong Kong time. Shares of Alibaba will begin trading on Nov. 26.

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