Chinese e-commerce giant eyes IPO

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said it is moving toward a long-anticipated initial public offering, with plans to sell shares of its business-to-business unit in Hong Kong, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said Alibaba, founded in 1999, has thrived amid China's export boom by helping to match foreign customers and Chinese suppliers of goods ranging from toys to industrial raw materials.

Its success has made founder Jack Ma one of China's most prominent business celebrities, the report said.

'Alibaba has taken the first steps toward an IPO of its B-to-B business,' Porter Erisman, an Alibaba spokesman, was quoted by the report as saying. He declined to give any details of the planned size or timing of an IPO.

Hong Kong newspapers, citing unidentified sources, said the IPO could raise as much as $1 billion to pay for Alibaba to expand abroad. Dow Jones Newswires said the company filed an application with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao said shares could begin trading in September.

Investors have been anticipating an IPO since Yahoo paid $1 billion for 40% of Alibaba in August 2005. Alibaba took over running Yahoo's struggling China arm.

The Associated Press report further said Alibaba accounted for more than 69% of China's business-to-business online trading in the first quarter of this year, according to Beijing-based research company Analysys International.

Alibaba's English-language web site carries listings for thousands of small and midsize Chinese manufacturers that are the heart of the country's export industries.