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Alibaba debt sale draws investor rush despite regulatory woes

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A $5bn debt sale by Alibaba drew more than $38bn in orders from investors, illustrating how the Chinese tech group’s bonds remain an alluring proposition for global capital even as regulators pile on pressure.

The bumper dollar debt issuance, one of the largest in Asia in 2021, came as the company feels the heat from Chinese authorities. Regulators suspended the $37bn stock market listing of its payments affiliate Ant Group in November and launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba in December. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire founder, has disappeared almost entirely from the public spotlight in recent months.

Bankers familiar with the deal said they were initially uncertain whether increased scrutiny of Ma’s empire and China’s wider ecommerce sector would weigh on demand for the bonds, which priced on Friday. Alibaba earlier scaled back the debt sale from up to $8bn.

But investors appeared to put those concerns aside, with bids for the bonds amounting to more than seven times the value on offer. “It illustrates how highly regarded big China tech names like Alibaba remain for investors,” one banker said.

Yields on all four of the bond tranches came in lower than initially guided by bankers, underscoring high demand for returns as a flood of central bank liquidity in response to the coronavirus pandemic depressed global interest rates.

Yields on the 10- 30- and 40-year bond tranches totalling $4bn were 0.3 percentage points below initial guidance. The yield on a ten-year, $1.5bn bond priced at 2.143 per cent, 1 percentage point above that on the equivalent maturity US Treasury.

People directly familiar with the deal said it had drawn substantial demand from investors looking to adhere to environmental, social and governance principles. The yield on a 20-year, $1bn sustainability tranche — tied to green projects — dropped 0.4 percentage points from earlier guidance. It priced 1 percentage point above the equivalent Treasury yield.

Proceeds from the remaining $4bn will be used to boost Alibaba’s working capital and repay offshore debts. Alibaba also increased the size of its share buyback programme from $6bn to $10bn in December.

Wong Kok Hoi, chief investment officer at APS Asset Management in Singapore, said the bond sale was about “Alibaba raising as much capital as they can when the environment is favourable”. He added: “As the old saying goes, ‘make hay — as much as you can — while the sun shines’.”

Alibaba’s New York-listed stock is down about 14 per cent since Ant’s IPO suspension. The shares recovered some ground after Ant reached a deal with regulators to restructure its business this week.

In its most recent quarterly earnings, Alibaba posted a 37 per cent year-on-year gain in revenue, beating analysts’ forecasts. However, that figure was boosted by the inclusion of sales from supermarket chain Sun Art, without which Alibaba would have recorded one of its slowest rates of quarterly growth since the company’s IPO in 2014.

Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and China International Capital were among the underwriters on the bond sale.



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Spac led by tech founders targets Europe’s unicorns for US listings

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Tailwind International, the New York-listed special purpose acquisition company, is searching for European tech unicorns to list in the US as part of plans to bypass EU and UK markets and build a multibillion-dollar franchise of Europe-based businesses.

Tailwind, which says it is the first Spac where a group of European tech founders will focus on investing in the region’s tech companies, raised $345m on the New York Stock Exchange last month with the intention of taking a European tech group public in the US. 

Tommy Stadlen, co-founder of venture capital fund Giant and the Spac’s chair, said: “We will bring one of Europe’s iconic technology companies to the US public markets.”

Pierre Denis, former Jimmy Choo chief executive and Coty board member, is the chief executive. Nathalie Gaveau, co-founder of French ecommerce site PriceMinister, is president and other sponsors include the co-founders of luxury online retailer MatchesFashion and German meal kit delivery business HelloFresh.

Philip Krim, the co-founder of online mattress start-up Casper, is a co-founder.

The number of Spacs — which list on the stock exchange before they find a business to buy — has grown rapidly in the US in the past few months as investors have piled in with the hope of acquiring stakes in promising target businesses.

In February alone a total of 174 Spacs filed or priced for expected gross proceeds of $56bn, according to data from FactSet.

So far this year, there have been more than 180 Spac filings, against last year’s total of nearly 250, which was the highest in five years.

European tech groups, including the UK’s used car site Cazoo and health app Babylon, have already held talks with US Spacs

The Tailwind team is planning to launch a series of Spacs to build out the franchise. The minimum size of any target would be $1bn, Stadlen said, ranging up to $15bn, with the potential to raise additional equity.

He said the UK would be a focus owing to the larger numbers of promising tech companies, alongside France, Germany and the Nordic nations.

In a sign of booming demand among investors, Tailwind increased the size of the listing from $250m to the maximum of $300m, and also exercised the “greenshoe option” that allowed its underwriters to buy up further shares, taking the total to $345m. People close to the process said there was $3bn of demand for the initial public offering. 

Stadlen said Tailwind would have an advantage in being run by tech founders — pointing out that operator-led Spacs outperformed peers — and that a “multi-Spac” platform was more likely to succeed because of access to resources.

Tailwind has already had conversations with European venture capital firms and founders to discuss potential US listings of their businesses, he said.

He added that European exchanges had been unattractive to tech listings because they offered lower potential returns. Only two have listed in Europe so far this year, according to Refinitiv. A US Spac offers founders access to US markets where there were “more capital and better valuations”. 

Bankers in London are keen for the UK government to change the listing rules on Spacs to compete with New York and rival cities in Europe. At present, a Spac acquisition in the UK is considered a reverse takeover and the shares are suspended. Trading cannot resume until a deal prospectus is published, for which there is no specified deadline, so investors who want to sell their shares can find themselves locked in.

Bankers in London have talked up Amsterdam as Europe’s hub for Spacs, while German venture capitalist Klaus Hommels launched a European tech-focused Spac, Lakestar, in Frankfurt last week, the first on the Xetra market in a decade.

“We are open to Spacs as a product and have all the conditions in place for more of these to go public in Germany. They have been the go-to topic in most calls with issuers, banks, and lawyers over the past six months so we expect Spac listings to accelerate in Europe,” said Renata Bandov, head of capital markets at Deutsche Börse.

“In the post-Brexit environment, UK-listed companies cannot currently passport their prospectuses into the EU so we anticipate a higher influx of dual listings.”



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Rocket Lab/Spire Global: Spacs, the final frontier

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Life sometimes imitates emojis. Social media stock tipsters are fond of littering posts with rocket symbols. Rocket Lab, which is floating at a $4.1bn enterprise value, makes the real thing. It was one of two space-related businesses to join the market via special purpose acquisition companies (Spac) on Monday, as the surge in these listings continued.

Just two months into the new year and Wall Street has raised a staggering $58bn through 188 blank cheque vehicles, according to Refinitiv. With hot money appearing to outweigh the supply of merger candidates, sponsors are howling to the moon for deals.

Rocket Lab launches smaller satellites into space. Its celestial twin was Spire Global, a satellite data group that is combining with a Spac at a $1.6bn equity valuation.

Like many recent Spac companies, Rocket Lab and Spire are justifying their valuations with lofty sales and earnings growth projections. Rocket Lab, which generated $35m in revenues last year, said it expected to pull in more than $1.1bn in 2026 and become cash flow positive in 2024. Spire, with just $28m in sales in 2020, is forecasting $900m in revenue by 2025 and positive cash flow in three years’ time.

Tesla founder Elon Musk and his SpaceX rocket company have reignited investor interest in US space companies. Annual revenues from space-related business — at present worth $350bn — could almost triple in size by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley.

SpaceX was reportedly valued at $74bn by its latest private funding. Shares in Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism company, have almost doubled since last September to give it a $9bn valuation, even as the group reported a $273m loss in 2020.

Space companies are a moonshot borne aloft by the rocket fuel of cheap money. That momentum trade has more to recommend than some others, such as fledgling electric vehicle companies. Both Rocket Lab and Spire have proven technologies to accomplish highly demanding tasks. This really is rocket science. But like space exploration itself, these investments are only for the brave.

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Coinbase’s offering docs have just dropped [Update]

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Just when you thought you’d seen it all in SEC filings, along comes the Coinbase prospectus. Which is really a direct listing. But who can tell during these days of ICOs and ITOs what a public offering even is.

The cryptocurrency platform which aims to “create an open financial system” is planning to go public via a Direct Listing on the Nasdaq in the near future. The docs dropped an hour ago.

While we dig through the paperwork, we thought we’d just share this gem from the “Definitions” page — the section of an IPO prospectus dedicated to those terms erstwhile investors might not have heard of.

Won’t you look at that:

Hodl: A term used in the crypto community for holding a crypto asset through ups and downs, rather than selling it.

There’s also an excellent use case (with our emphasis):

Borrow & Lend. We allow our U.S. retail users to borrow against and lend their crypto asset portfolios. Our first product is a portfolio-backed loan: a flexible, non-purpose 12-month term loan that allows retail users to borrow U.S. dollars using their crypto assets as collateral. Secured by their investment portfolio, customers can use the line of credit to access U.S. dollars while maintaining a “hodl” investing strategy. Over time, we plan to offer our retail users the ability to opt into lending their crypto assets to earn a passive return on their long term investments.

This is otherwise known in the real financial world as . . . a basis trade.

Meanwhile, Izzy has been pointing out some other curiosities on Twitter:

We’d also add this, which Preston Byrne on Twitter pointed out:

Satoshi as a risk factor, who’d have thought?

More tomorrow, we’ve not even got to the financials yet.





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