Alibaba's planned US$13.4 billion share sale will be Hong Kong's first paperless stock market listing, a source with knowledge of the matter said, breaking with a long-held tradition of investors placing stock orders in bank branches.
Companies carrying out initial public offerings in Hong Kong have traditionally placed prospectuses in banks, which would often stay open late or over the weekend, and investors would fill out paper forms to place their stock orders.
The decision by Alibaba to fully automate the retail subscription component of its deal comes as Hong Kong is gripped by violent civil unrest which has shut shops in the financial district and on Thursday led the government to close schools.
Alibaba does not plan to print a paper copy of its 661-page prospectus, which it lodged with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Wednesday, said the source, who was not authorised to speak to the media and so declined to be named.
Investment bankers familiar with the Alibaba listing said the logistics of having investors queuing in or outside banks while protests unfolded nearby would have been difficult.
Alibaba is not expected to carry out a advertising campaign for the listing, but will tell potential retail shareholders, particularly the elderly, that the automation process will not lock them out of participating.
An Alibaba spokeswoman declined to comment.
The Hangzhou-based ecommerce giant will invite retail investors to subscribe for shares on Friday, with an initial allotment for them of 12.5 million shares, or 2.5% of the new stock to be issued, a term sheet seen by Reuters shows.
Hang Seng sinks
Alibaba's prospectus showed the company plans to issue 500 million new shares and could raise up to $13.4 billion after the so-called over-allotment option is exercised.
The listing comes as Hang Seng index fell to a five-week low on Thursday, driven down by worsening sentiment in Hong Kong.
Alibaba had planned a paperless deal when it considered a listing in Hong Kong over the summer. The listing was put on hold after the anti-government protests started to unfold and the city has since been gripped by worsening violence.
The decision to go paperless was in line with Alibaba considering itself a leading e-commerce and digital platform, the source said.
An Alibaba report on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) last year said it was "mindful of the environmental effect of paper and plastic packaging as well as the carbon footprint of transport systems in logistics".
(Reporting by Scott Murdoch; Editing by Neil Fullick, Mark Potter and Alexander Smith)
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