The parent of Alipay.com Co., Chinese billionaire Jack Ma's online payments operator, will pay 1.18 billion yuan ($193 million) for a controlling stake in an asset manager as he expands investment in financial services.
Zhejiang Alibaba E-commerce Co., controlled by Ma, will buy new shares to get 51 percent of Tian Hong Asset Management Co., according to a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange from Inner Mongolia Junzheng Energy & Chemical Industry Co., another Tian Hong shareholder. Alipay has offered fund products from Tian Hong since June.
The acquisition is part of a wider push by Ma's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China's largest e-commerce company, to expand in the country's financial industry. Other Internet companies including Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc. are also moving into finance as authorities open banking and other industries to private capital as part of Premier Li Keqiang's push to reduce the government's role in the economy.
"Alibaba's previous cooperation with Tian Hong was very successful, and investing into the company will give it more control," said Wang Weidong, analyst at the Shanghai-based Internet consultant IResearch. "They can come up with further innovations in Internet finance."
Alipay, which offers an equivalent of PayPal Inc.'s service, had more than 800 million registered accounts as of July, compared with 420 million customers at Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., the country's largest lender by that measure.
The payments operator began offering fund products from Tian Hong in June on a platform called Yu'E Bao, meaning "leftover treasure." Online shoppers who use Alipay can put spare cash into Yu'E Bao, which invests in funds. There is no minimum for how much shoppers have to put into Yu'E Bao and they can withdraw the money at any time.
Yu'E Bao attracted 2.5 million users with 5.7 billion yuan ($931 million) of investments by the end of June, Alipay said. The annualized return based on the latest seven-day average was 4.99 percent on Oct. 10, according to Yu'E Bao's website.
Alipay, whose spinoff from the Alibaba Group led to differences between Ma and Yahoo! Inc., is now fully owned by Zhejiang Alibaba E-commerce Co., which in turn is about 46 percent owned by Ma, according to company filings as of May.
China has reduced state controls of interest rates, allowed greater foreign investment in domestic markets and is moving to let more private investors set up banks as authorities seek to give markets a greater role in the economy.
Former Premier Wen Jiabao said in April 2012 that the nation's banking monopoly needed to be broken. China's five biggest lenders are all state owned.
Li, who took over from Wen in March, said at his first press conference as premier that China needed to reduce the government's economic role even if it is as painful as "cutting one's wrist."
In addition to offering access to funds, Alibaba also set up a microloans business three years ago. It has extended more than 100 billion yuan of financing to more than 320,000 small online businesses and entrepreneurs, it said in an e-mailed statement in July.
Micro financing has flourished in China since its inception in 2005 as the nation's 42 million smaller businesses missed out on a 4 1/2 year credit binge that mostly benefited government- backed enterprises and projects. Less than 10 percent of small private enterprises have access to bank loans, according to Citic Securities Co. estimates, despite accounting for 60 percent of economic output and 80 percent of jobs.