The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba payments cleanup makes for neater IPO

By Peter Thal Larsen

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Alibaba just can’t stop tinkering with its corporate structure. Weeks before the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut is due to start a roadshow for an initial public offering, it has tidied up relations with its payments affiliate. Though the new arrangement is still messier than shareholders might want, it should make for a neater IPO.

Alibaba’s relationship with Alipay is complex and sensitive. The unit processes more than three-quarters of the transactions on the Chinese group’s websites, but has been owned by a private vehicle controlled by founder Jack Ma since 2011. That business, known as Small and Micro Financial Services Company (SMFSC), is also home to other ventures like its fast-growing money market funds. For customers, the units connect seamlessly. The corporate links are more complicated.

The latest reshuffle aims to draw a clearer line between the two entities. Alibaba will focus on e-commerce, while SMFSC will stick to finance. As part the deal, Alibaba is handing its affiliate a portfolio of loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises. The transfer helps to reduce the risk of meddling by Chinese financial regulators.

Under the old arrangement, Alibaba received 49.9 percent of Alipay’s pre-tax profit. The new deal entitles it to 37.5 percent of everything SMFSC brings in before tax. Alibaba thinks the claim on the earnings of a bigger business more than compensates for its reduced share. Its accountants calculate that the restructuring has boosted the company’s value by roughly 1.3 billion yuan ($211 million). However, it’s hard for outsiders to be sure because Alibaba does not tell them anything about SMFSC’s finances. Besides, Alibaba admits that if the new arrangement had been in place for the last fiscal year, its net income would have been slightly lower.

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: ITT’s ghost hangs over Silicon Valley

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The number of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley familiar with the work of Harold Geneen would hardly fill a 140-character tweet. After all, Geneen wasn’t a technologist, the inventor of a new computing language or the founder of a seminal startup. He was the original M&A machine – the man whose deal-making 50 years ago turned ITT into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate.

As tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Rakuten and Google mature and canvass the globe for businesses they can buy that are a few steps removed from their core activities, Geneen’s story is becoming more relevant. These titans of the internet age are embarking on diversification strategies not entirely dissimilar from those of Geneen’s ITT and its many followers, including LTV, Transamerica and Gulf+Western.