September 19, 2014 / 3:09 PM / 3 years ago

Retail investors rush to buy Alibaba IPO

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd founder Jack Ma (2nd L) poses as he arrives at the New York Stock Exchange for his company's initial public offering (IPO) under the ticker "BABA" in New York September 19, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) - The biggest initial public offering of all time appears to have finally gotten U.S. retail investors’ attention.

Two weeks ago, brokerage firms and financial advisers were hearing practically nothing from clients about Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which went public Friday.

But today, investors at TD Ameritrade and Fidelity Investments rushed to place orders for shares of the Chinese e-commerce provider, which is a juggernaut in China and has higher sales figures than both Amazon.com Inc and eBay Inc combined.

Pre-market investor orders at TD Ameritrade Holding Corp for shares of Alibaba Holding Corp surpassed the number of orders placed before the Facebook initial public offering, according to the firm.

Similarly, at Fidelity Investments’ brokerage arm, orders for Alibaba were running 10 percent higher than they had for Facebook, according to a source familiar with the situation, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not permitted to speak to the media on the matter.

Meanwhile, financial advisers, many of whom just weeks ago were saying they were surprised at the lack of interest in Alibaba, have been flooded with calls from clients interested in buying shares of the company in the past 48 hours.

“I think as the chatter has increased and the date of the IPO got closer, investors are deciding to get in,” said Alan Haft, a Newport California-based financial adviser, who has seen the number of clients who want to buy shares almost double in the past few days. “The common thread I hear is ‘this is the Amazon of China.'”

As of Monday, 88 percent of American consumers had not even heard of Alibaba, according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Thomson Reuters.

The surge in orders for Alibaba at TD Ameritrade took the brokerage’s executives by surprise, said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at the firm. Just two weeks ago the number of client inquiries about the Alibaba IPO at TD Ameritrade was around a quarter of what it was for Facebook and about half of what it was for Twitter Inc.

Many investors have become more comfortable with the idea of investing in Alibaba given all of the media coverage around the company in the past couple of hours. “They realize it is not a fly by night company,” Kinahan said.

As of mid-day, Alibaba accounted for about 15 percent of all retail client trades at TD Ameritrade, according to the company.

In the past two days, James Gambaccini, a Fairfax, Virginia-based independent financial adviser, said he had received at least 75 e-mails and calls from clients interested in buying shares.

“It’s all they have been hearing about on the news over the last day so they want to know what it’s all about,” he said.

Retail investors generally get only 10 percent to 20 percent of shares in big IPOs.

The offer, which was distributed at $68 per share in the IPO, began trading at $92.70 at 11:53 a.m. EDT on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Additional reporting by Jed Horowitz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Linda Stern, Jeffrey Benkoe and Andrew Hay

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