Chinese regulators on Tuesday officially suspended the much-awaited IPO of giant Ant Group in a move that was not at all expected, and ended up shaving billions off the wealth of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, the group’s head.
There’s a lot at stake here: Ant Group was valued at around $310 billion ahead of its IPO, which intended to raise another $34.4 billion in capital. That’s bigger even than the $29.4 billion Saudi Aramco IPO.
On Monday, Ma was summoned, and with CEO Simon Hu and executive chairman Jack Ying, to a meeting with regulators.
“On November 2, 2020, Ma as controlling shareholder of Ant Group and Ant’s management team met with Chinese financial regulators,” Ant stated at the time. “Views regarding the health and stability of the financial sector were exchanged. Ant Group is committed to implementing the meeting opinions in depth and continuing our course based on the principles of: stable innovation; embrace of regulation; service to the real economy; and win-win cooperation. We will continue to improve our capabilities to provide inclusive services and promote economic development to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.”
That was only three days before Ant was expected to start trading on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges.
Now, the multi-billion-dollar question is: Why?
In late October, Ma was bold enough to criticize Chinese regulators for their methods of “outdated supervision”. It was perhaps too bold at a time when it was already becoming clear that Ant was getting too big for the Chinese authorities to control.
How big is it, exactly? Try $17 billion in digital transactions on for size. And that was just in a single 12-month period last year.
It’s huge. Ant Group is a fintech behemoth that does everything from financial services to loans, mutual funds, insurance policies, travel bookings and a payments platform called Alipay.
So, the question always was: Is this a tech firm or a financial firm, from a regulatory perspective?
Financial services require far more regulation, and while one can speculate endlessly that the Chinese regulators pulled Ma in and then quashed the IPO out of retaliation for public criticism, there’s far more to it than that.
Ant has the potential to completely disrupt the Chinese banking industry, so it must tread carefully.
Ma’s outspoken criticism didn’t help, certainly. It expressed to the regulators that he wasn’t fully on board. It was a threat, and the message in response has now been received--loud and clear. The regulators are still in control and Ant Group may be huge and it may be launching a disruptive challenge to the entire country’s banking system, but it won’t be doing it in lone ranger style.
Now the suspension is taking other stocks down with it. By some estimates, it could cost Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) an estimated $60 billion in lost market cap. But while BABA took a dive yesterday and this morning, and Jack Ma--the co-founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba and the controlling shareholder in Ant--lost $3 billion in a day, the stock recovered those losses to some extent by midday.
What happens now will be a massive rethink from investors as to how much these Chinese giants are worth given the regulatory risk that we’ve just seen …
By Michael Kern for Safehaven.com
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