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Alibaba Aims to Steal March on Rivals With UCWeb Purchase

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding on Wednesday made yet another acquisition as it beefs up ahead of a planned initial public offering later this year.

Alibaba agreed to buy the one-third of mobile browser maker UCWeb Inc. it doesn't already own to better take on Chinese Internet rivals Tencent Holdings Inc., an Internet service provider, and search engine operator Baidu Inc.

Alibaba said it would pay a mix of cash and shares in the deal but stopped short of releasing a price -- it said the valuation on the acquisition made the target worth more than the $1.9 billion Baidu paid for Android app developer 91 Wireless Ltd. in 2013, until then the country's biggest-ever Web acquisition.

"The move highlights the comprehensive integration of Alibaba and UCWeb following Alibaba's investment in UCWeb in 2009 and 2013, and will enable deeper synergies between the companies by marrying Alibaba's strengths in e-commerce, cloud computing and big data technology and UCWeb's leading market position and technology in mobile," the companies said.

Alibaba has spent much of the year -- and nearly $6 billion - -adding services to prove it's the champion of the Chinese Internet. It's announced a $1.85 billion agreement to take Nasdaq-listed AutoNavi Holdings Ltd. private and an $803 million deal to move its minor stake in content provider ChinaVision Media Group Ltd. to a majority.

In April Alibaba and the investment vehicle of its billionaire founder Jack Ma's agreed to pump $1.22 billion into Chinese Internet TV company Youku Tudou Inc.

And this month has kept up the blistering pace. Last week it unveiled an agreement to buy 50% of the Guangzhou Evergrande soccer team from Hong Kong-listed Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd. That would cost the company about $192 million.

Alibaba later this year will list on either the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq in the most anticipated IPO since Facebook Inc.'s $18 billion listing in May 2012. The sale could value the company at as much as $200 billion and prove a boon to Sunnyvale, Calif.'s Yahoo! Inc., owner of 24% of Alibaba.

UCWeb is China's most-used mobile browser. The company employs 500.

Alibaba's Ma last fall joined UCWeb's board as the company sank an undisclosed stake in the browser maker. UCWeb has about 500 million users and operates its own app store with 50 million users.

Both companies in April announced a cooperation to develop a mobile search engine that would guide UCWeb users to Alibaba's e-commerce sites.

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