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Alibaba invests US$1b to control Singapore e-commerce site Lazada

This will open the SE Asia market for Alibaba's merchants; analysts see a shakeout in the region's e-commerce and a boom for its logistics players

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The transaction, following which Alibaba will own about half of Lazada, consists of an investment of about US$500 million in new shares of Lazada, and an acquisition of shares from certain of its shareholders, said a source.

Singapore

ALIBABA Group will invest about US$1 billion to acquire a controlling stake in Singapore-based e-commerce site Lazada, in a deal that will value the startup at US$1.5 billion on a pre-money basis, and US$2 billion on a post-money basis, The Business Times has learnt.

The move will enable local and global merchants who do business on Alibaba's platform to access the South-east Asian market, Alibaba said on Tuesday.

Lazada, which runs e-commerce platforms in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam and is the region's largest e-commerce player, said it recorded US$1.3 billion last year in annualised gross merchandise value across its six South-east Asian markets.

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Analysts BT spoke to said this could be the start of a consolidation - and shakeout - among the region's e-commerce players, who now operate in a highly fragmented, competitive market.

It marks also a boom for logistics companies, including startups, the services of which are vital for the healthy development of e-commerce.

The transaction, following which Alibaba will own "just about 50 per cent" of Lazada, said a source, consists of an investment of about US$500 million in new shares of Lazada, and an acquisition of shares from certain of its shareholders.

Alibaba has also entered into a put-call arrangement with certain Lazada shareholders, giving the Jack Ma-founded group the right to buy, and Lazada shareholders the right to sell, collectively, their remaining stakes in Lazada at fair-market value during the 12- to 18-month period after the close of the transaction.

Major Lazada shareholders include:

  • Singapore's Temasek Holdings, which led a US$250 million Series F round in Lazada in 2014;
  • German Internet company builder Rocket Internet, which led a US$40 million Series A round in 2012; and
  • British grocery retailer Tesco, which led a 200 million euro (S$307 million) Series E round in 2013.

Tesco on Tuesday said that it has agreed to sell to Alibaba an 8.6 per cent equity stake for 90 million pounds (S$172.5 million), leaving it with an 8.3 per cent stake in the business; Tesco would use the cash for general working capital.

Other major Lazada shareholders would too, see a portion of their equity stakes being acquired upfront, BT has learnt.

Credit Suisse (Hong Kong) is the exclusive financial adviser to Alibaba, and Goldman Sachs (Asia), to Lazada.

Lazada chief executive Max Bittner told BT that there are "numerous synergies" between both platforms. For example, Lazada will be able to expand its offerings and leverage Alipay's expertise to build a unified online-payment platform in South-east Asia.

Alibaba president Michael Evans said: "Globalisation is a critical strategy for the growth of Alibaba today and well into the future. With the investment in Lazada, Alibaba gains access to a platform with a large and growing consumer base outside China …(and) in one of the most promising regions for e-commerce globally."

South-east Asia, where just three per cent of total retail sales is done online, offers "tremendous" growth potential to both platforms as Internet penetration continues rising, Alibaba said.

But challenges - mainly logistical - abound for e-commerce players in this region, said Forrester (New Delhi) analyst Satish Meena. These include inconsistent customs and import duty, inadequate infrastructure and the use of cash on delivery.

He said: "In particular, the lack of warehouses outside Singapore and Thailand is a key concern, as e-commerce players who want to penetrate further into the rural areas and support the last-mile delivery will have to invest more in non-metropolitan areas to ensure efficient time to market."

Alibaba will be able to leverage the infrastructure built by Lazada, and also that by SingPost, in which Alibaba earlier invested, to develop the logistics necessary for expanding in South-east Asia, he added.

Chu Junhong, associate professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, agreed that it is "more efficient, cost-effective and safer" for Alibaba to partner Lazada than to make a foray into the region alone.

She said: "There are too many players (in South-east Asia); many of them cannot break even. Consolidation is a natural step for the further development of e-commerce." She predicts that consumers will benefit by having a larger variety of goods at much lower prices, and some less efficient e-commerce players may be forced out of the market.

Oliver Arscott, conference director of the E-Commerce Show Asia, said: "It's really interesting to see this happen right after Rakuten, another of the major forces in global e-commerce, decided to scale back their involvement in South-east Asia.

"It will be exciting to watch how Lazada can use the new capital to better serve South-east Asia. It could really help to expand the marketplace for e-commerce and make the pie bigger for all."

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