Employees stand on a logo of Alibaba in this file picture.

New York - There are two common interpretations for the word “ba” in Chinese.

Literally, it can mean “eight.” Superstitiously, it denotes “fortune.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that Alibaba Group Holding -- with back-to-back “ba’s” in its own name -- is targeting a US trading debut of August 8, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The company’s co-founders Jack Ma and Joe Tsai both see it as auspicious, the people said, asking not to be named because the information is private.

Management also prefers having BABA as a ticker symbol, one of the people said.

Alibaba isn’t limiting itself to the eighth day of the eighth month.

A weak market or a myriad of other factors could slow the deal and push it back until September, the people said.

Chinese consider the number eight to be lucky because “ba” sounds like the word for prosperity, “fa.”

August 8 has worked for other momentous Chinese events in the past.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics -- credited by the International Olympic Committee as an “indisputable success” -- commenced on 8/8/08.

Ma and Tsai aren’t alone in favouring the tradition on large deals.

When Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi was negotiating an $11.2 billion takeover of Singapore’s Fraser & Neave, his penchant for lucky numbers led to a price of S$8.88 a share for part of the deal, people close to the matter said last year.

Charoen is ethnically Chinese.


Lucky Eights


Ashley Zandy, a spokeswoman for Alibaba in San Francisco, declined to comment on a potential trading date for the IPO.

The potential for an August IPO was earlier reported by CNBC.

Alibaba has already shown its backers some good fortune.

The IPO may be the largest ever in the US, with a float size estimated at around $20 billion and the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant’s total value estimated at about $168 billion, up more than fivefold in just a few years.

More will be needed: To sell billions of dollars worth of shares, the company will need to rope in the biggest investors, and generate enough demand that it trades higher on the first day.

The number eight has certainly made its way into Alibaba’s culture.

The Hong Kong stock exchange’s ticker of Alibaba.com was 1688, which sounds like “make a fortune” in Chinese.

While Alibaba.com was taken private in 2012, the numerical combination endures as 1688.com, one of the company’s websites.

Luckily for Alibaba, BABA is available in the US, after Santa Fe Petroleum changed its ticker from that to SFPI in 2012.

BA, of course, is Boeing’s handle.

Alibaba may also consider the ticker ALBB, one person said.


August Doldrums


Still, Alibaba may be pushing its luck with an August debut.

Fund managers are often away for their summer holidays during the month, and trading volumes in the US slump.

Of the 100 largest IPOs to list in the US, only two -- Google and Petroleo Brasileiro -- debuted in August, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Alibaba may not attempt to price its IPO late in August if it can’t meet the August 8 target, the people said.

Instead, it would probably push the deal back until September.

The good news is that nine -- which sounds like “long lasting” in Mandarin -- is also a lucky number. - Bloomberg News