Chinese fintech giant Ant Group was due to go public on Thursday in the largest IPO in history. Now, those plans are on hold after Chinese regulators torpedoed the listing at the eleventh hour.
Regulators cited “changes to the financial technology regulatory environment and other major issues” for suspending the Ant Group IPO.
A consultation paper, published on Monday by regulatory officials, requires micro-lenders to provide more capital for loans. This would have a significant bearing on Ant Group’s business model.
Ant Group, which operates the digital payments platform Alipay, had been due to complete a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong for a record $37bn. The move was seen as a response to prolonged tensions between Washington and Beijing. The billions of dollars it was set to bring into China was seen as a sign of the country’s growing position on the global technology stage.
But on Tuesday night the Shanghai Stock Exchange suspended the listing. Ant Group subsequently withdraw its filing for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Liu Guoqiang, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), told reporters that the IPO block was “about maintaining stable, healthy market development in the long term”.
Investors and analysts see it as a move by the Chinese Communist party to curtail the power of Ant Group chairman Jack Ma. The self-made billionaire entrepreneur heads up a tech empire that includes e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Ant Group, which is affiliated to Alibaba, is seen as the crown jewel of his companies, with its digital payments platform serving over one billion people.
Some have pointed to comments Ma made on 24 October during a Shanghai summit attended by China’s political establishment as the catalyst for regulators blocking the Ant Group IPO.
“We shouldn’t use the way to manage a train station to regulate an airport,” Ma said. “We cannot regulate the future with yesterday’s means.”
Reuters reports that the speech led to senior political officials asking Chinese regulators to review Ant Group’s businesses.
Lawyers for Ant Group said the company would have to submit a new IPO prospectus in Hong Kong. This could take at least six months, they said.
There had been a huge demand from investors to grab a slice of Ant Group in an oversubscribed IPO that put its valuation at $315bn, which would have made it Asia’s fifth most valuable firm.
One side effect of the IPO freeze means that investor cash locked up in the listing is now freed up to be invested in other ventures in Asia.
The Ant Group IPO suspension saw Alibaba shares fall by 2%, despite reporting above-expectations quarterly results on Thursday.
Ant Group and analysts are confident that the IPO will happen eventually, although it will have to be repackaged and will likely be at a lower valuation.