It’s huge initial public offering over, the market has appraised Alibaba, assigning it a market capitalization of more than $230 billion at the end of its first day of trading. For now, the all-everything Chinese e-commerce company is worth more than 10 LinkedIns, or one Facebook. Virtually all IPOs, even huge offerings such as Alibaba, are inherently speculative. Only time will tell if over the next decade, it appreciates as much as Google or Facebook, or evaporates like Zygna.
But apart from being instantly huge, Alibaba is also a company that’s frustrating to evaluate as an investment. Even Alibaba’s peers—among them eBay, Amazon, and Facebook—each have unique business models. Individually tailored metrics have been developed by stock analysts for each of these e-commerce firms, each designed to shed light on the firms' future prospects.
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Alibaba's business models borrow from all those firms, and more. Layered on top of that, Alibaba is still primarily an Asian-facing conglomerate. So we dare say that for most individual investors, an Asian-based eBay/Facebook/Amazon company such as Alibaba is an investment that’s more opaque than transparent.
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Because of its corporate structure, Alibaba won’t be included in many broad-market indexes, and, by extension, the index funds and exchange-traded funds that track them. Still, $230 billion is pretty difficult to avoid, so it’s still possible to invest in the e-commerce giant indirectly, through mutual funds or ETFs that will own, or will soon be owning, Alibaba stock. So here's where you will, and won't find Alibaba shares in the mutual fund and exchange-traded fund landscape.
Index funds. Despite being a tech giant, you won’t find Alibaba in the PowerShares QQQ Trust ETF since it trades over the New York Stock Exchange, and not Nasdaq. And even though it would be among the 20 largest stocks if included in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, don't look for it to appear there either. Earlier in the month, S&P Dow Jones Indices assigned Alibaba a China domicile. Only U.S.-based firms are eligible for inclusion in the S&P 500.
Exchange-Traded Funds. So how about an ETF that tracks Chinese firms? Not so fast: The major indexes for Chinese shares don't consider Alibaba a Chinese company (Alibaba is incorporated in the Cayman Islands), so you won't find Alibaba in those funds either.
But exchange-traded funds that invest exclusively in initial public offerings are taking stakes in Alibaba. As of Sept. 22, according to Morningstar's data. the only ETF that owns Alibaba shares is the First Trust US IPO ETF (ticker FPX). Currently, it owns about 170,000 shares, comprising 3 percent of its portfolio. Another IPO exchange-traded fund, the Renaissance Capital IPO fund, (ticker IPO) plans to own the shares within the next few trading sessions.
Mutual Funds. Exchange-traded funds immediately report what shares they curently own, but mutual only report their holdings once every quarter, via a Securities and Exchange Commission filing known as a 13-F. So you'll need to wait a few months to find out which fund managers think that Alibaba shares can climb further.
Other companies. Yahoo has been a major stakeholder in Alibaba since 2005, and still owns $37 billion of Alibaba shares. That may seem like good news for Yahoo shareholders, until you consider that Alibaba's value is 90 percent of Yahoo's current market cap of $41 billion.—Chris Horymski
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