BY DUNCAN MIL
January 22, 2021 – After a three-month absence, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s re-emergence prompted a rally in the shares of Alibaba, the e-commerce group he founded, but affiliate Ant could face antitrust probes.
Ma’s troubles started on October 24 less than two weeks before China’s wealthiest man was preparing to float Ant Group, a fintech company, in the world’s highest-valued initial public offering (IPO).
“Miracles happen,” he told an audience — which included the vice president of China Wang Qishan and the head of the People’s Bank of China — who had gathered at the Bund Summit in Shanghai. “This is the largest listing ever priced in the history of the entire human race, and the pricing happened in a place other than New York City,” he said.
Ma then described China’s financial system as operating “with a pawnshop mentality” and that the regulators were trying to “use the way to manage a railway station to manage an airport”.
Reprisals were quick. On November 2, Ma, alongside Ant’s executive chairman Eric Jing and CEO Simon Hu, were summoned by regulators. The Shanghai Stock Exchange dramatically cancelled Ant’s IPO on November 5.
A draft regulation from the People’s Bank of China — the country’s central bank — now targets Ma’s Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings’ WeChat Pay. The two apps account for more than 90 per cent of China’s US$29 trillion e-payment markets.
If the State Administration of Market Regulation’s antitrust probes defines Alipay and WeChat Pay as monopolies, they could be made subject to penalties or broken up.