By Elzio Barreto and Prakash Chakravarti
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Wednesday it is seeking to extend the draw-down period of an $8 billion loan from January next year, a move people familiar with the e-commerce company's plans said would buy it more time to launch an IPO.
The original expiry date of the draw-down period on the loan was January 30 of next year, according to the deal terms. Alibaba wants to extend that to December 31, 2014, sources familiar with the discussions said.
"We have plenty of cash on the balance sheet and there is no need to draw down at this time, so we are extending the availability of funds to maintain flexibility," the company said, without specifying a new date.
Alibaba said the funds will be used for corporate purposes. It has already used $5 billion from the loan facility to refinance its debt.
The $8 billion loan is a key part of Alibaba's IPO plan, and the extension to the end of next year signals that the public float is remains a long way off.
China's biggest e-commerce firm has struggled to reach an agreement with Hong Kong regulators over a partnership structure it hopes to use as part of an initial public offering (IPO), a deal that expected to be worth around $15 billion and which may take place next year.
Public comments by its founder Jack Ma and a statement from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in recent months, however, have raised the possibility of a Hong Kong listing.
The company has yet to outline a date or venue for the IPO. Under an agreement with its second biggest shareholder Yahoo Inc., Alibaba has incentives to complete an IPO before December 2015.
All 22 lenders involved with the loan must agree to the extension.
The banks have until December 20 to respond to the extension request, and those responding in favor before Friday will get an "early bird" fee of $50,000 from the company if the move succeeds.
(Reporting by Elzio Barreto and Prakash Chakravarti of IFR/LPC; Additional reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Miral Fahmy)