It really doesn't pay to piss off the Chinese government. Just ask billionaire Jack Ma. He made some comments about China's financial regulatory system in Shanghai on October 24. He declared the rules to be bad for fostering innovation. He also called the regulators that enforce the system "an old man's club." Almost before he could exhale, Ant Group's IPO was pulled off the table. In the press release about the postponement, the Shanghai Stock Exchange said Ant Group's IPO was pulled because of "major issues" that may cause the company "not to meet the listing conditions or disclosure requirements."
The Chinese government recently released new guidelines for online banks. It is expected that Ant will have to retool its business to meet the new rules.
Now, the Chinese government is looking into Ma's Alibaba as well. Specifically, it has launched an anti-monopoly investigation into the nation's biggest tech company. Ma is, of course, the co-founder of Alibaba and Ant as well as China's richest person. Now the government is going after his growing tech empire. The government is looking into Alibaba's practice of forcing its sellers to sign exclusivity contracts. To be clear, this is standard market practice, regardless of how Ma's competitors or China's State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) feel about it.
As a result of this news, shares of Alibaba fell by 8.1%. That's the tech giant's largest one-day slide since mid-November.
In a separate case, China's central bank also said it was working with three financial watchdogs to have a meeting with Ant Group to urge it to put stricter financial regulations in place. Ant's now postponed IPO was primed to be the world's biggest-ever IPO in November. Ant Group was expected to raise $37 billion at a valuation of $300 billion in the IPO.
Ant's IPO had at least $3 trillion in orders for its dual listing on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets. This sparked a ton of interest for investors in China who wanted a piece of Ant. The IPO was also poised to make a number of early investors and employees billionaires, including Ma's Alibaba co-founder Lucy Peng. This would have been Ma's second "biggest IPO ever." Alibaba held the title of the biggest IPO ever when it went public in 2014. Saudi Aramco knocked Alibaba out of that title when it made its IPO in December 2019.
Ma developed Alipay, the payment app that is the core business of Ant. He created it as a side project to fill a need in China's growing e-commerce industry. Before Alipay, state-run banks with bad customer service and inefficient methods were the only options.
Ant changed that. With Ant, people can apply for and get decisions on small loans quickly. They can also pay for things through Ant and invest in money market funds with as little as 15 cents.
Ma will probably think twice before criticizing the Chinese government going forward.