Alibaba: A Case Study of Synthetic Control
29 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2020 Last revised: 22 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 15, 2021
Alibaba, the NYSE-traded Chinese ecommerce giant, is currently valued at over $700 billion. But Alibaba’s governance is opaque, obscuring who controls the firm. We show that Jack Ma, who now owns only about 5%, can effectively control Alibaba by controlling an entirely different firm: Ant Group. We demonstrate how control of Ant Group enables Ma to dominate Alibaba’s board. We also explain how this control gives Ma the indirect ability to disable (and perhaps seize) VIE-held licenses critical to Alibaba, providing him with substantial additional leverage. Alibaba is a case study of how corporate control can be created synthetically with little or no equity ownership via a web of employment and contractual arrangements.
Keywords: Alibaba, Ant Group, China, Controlled Firms, Controlling Shareholder, Corporate Control, VIEs, Corporate Governance
JEL Classification: G30, G32, G34, M12, M14
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