Is Jack Ma’s appetite for fashion big enough to take a significant stake in Yoox Net-a-porter Group, giving his Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, a steady and credible supply of Western brands?
For hopeful Yoox shareholders, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”
Shares of Yoox rose 8.7 percent to 25.41 euros in Milan, giving the company a market capitalization of 3.4 billion euros as reports, citing equity traders, swirled that Alibaba was interested in taking a stake in the Milan-based company led by founder and chief executive officer Federico Marchetti. Alibaba’s stock didn’t fare as well, slipping 0.2 percent to $142.73 on Wall Street.
A spokesman for Yoox declined to comment on “market speculation” and a representative for Alibaba did not respond to a WWD query Monday.
Such reports can be hard to gauge. Investors swap stories constantly and sometimes the ultimate source has an interest in seeing a particular stock rise and crafts a story or half-truth that almost makes too much sense to ignore.
Although WWD was unable to verify the rumor, it does have a certain logic that makes it ring true — two retail investment banker contacted Monday hadn’t heard the rumor, but one noted, “anything is possible these days” and the other said “anything is possible when you are Alibaba.”
That sense of possibility combined with Alibaba’s acquisitive nature, its growing war with rival JD.com was more than enough to go on for traders. And suddenly the market seems ready for deals. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. bought Jet.com last year and just inked a deal to add Andy Dunn’s Bonobos, while Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com put together a $13.7 billion cash deal to buy Whole Foods earlier this month.
And hitting closest to home for Alibaba, JD.com last week agreed to buy a $397 million minority stake in Farfetch, which will help it bring global luxury names to its e-commerce and social media eco-system. That deal was, in part, an effort to bring in goods that are seen as reliably from the brand on the label, getting a leg up in a market that is rife with fakes.
At a conference in Detroit last week, Ma reiterated his stance on counterfeits and called them a “cancer” on the business. He also laid out his vision for global commerce.
“Global buy and global sell will happen in the next 10 years,” Ma said. “If you want a coconut from Thailand, in 72 hours you’ll receive it.”
And presumably the same is true of a coat from Milan.
Ma has been aggressively driving Alibaba forward and willing to spend big to create the commercial world he envisions, investing in local services, media, health care, logistics, retail and web platforms abroad.
In some cases, a first investment was followed by a later deal to buy control of the target company. Alibaba, for instance, bought into department store company Intime retail in July 2014 and took the retailer private with its founder in May. The e-commerce company said the investment would “support our strategy to transform conventional retail by leveraging our substantial consumer reach, rich data and technology.”
And in April 2016, Alibaba spent $1 billion for a controlling stake in Lazada, which operates e-commerce platforms in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, with local language web sites and mobile apps.
The new giants, including Alibaba, Amazon, Wal-Mart, JD and so on, are increasingly seen as buyers of brands and platforms as they angle to take share from each other, lock up future opportunities and position themselves for an increasingly global market.
“The luxury market places and the luxury pure-play retailers are eminently desirable to all these companies because they can’t put those products on their platforms,” said one e-commerce source.
Expanding for these mammoth companies is a matter of build versus buy, with the latter option seemingly becoming more attractive.
More from WWD: