Aug 25, 2020 - Economy

Ant Financial's IPO could be the largest of all time

Chinese dragon

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Ant Financial on Monday filed for an initial public offering in Hong Kong and Shanghai, after years of speculation and anticipation.

Why it matters: This could be the largest IPO of all time, topping the $29 billion raised last year by Saudi Aramco. It's also a passive aggressive escalation of China-U.S. tensions, with Ant snubbing New York.

What is Ant: The fintech arm of Alibaba Group, which in 2014 chose New York for what, at the time, was a record-breaking IPO.

  • It began as a digital payments platform (Alipay), but has since expanded into everything from lending to wealth management to insurance.
  • Ant also is a major investor in startups, despite being considered a "unicorn" itself, and has formed joint ventures for services like local delivery.
  • In short, the company wants to be viewed as a rival to tech services companies as much as it is to banks.

By the numbers: Ant's IPO filing shows $3.2 billion of profits on $10.5 billion in revenue for the first half of 2020. The profit figure represents a year-over-year gain in excess of 1,000%, while revenue was up around 40%.

  • It's raised over $23 billion in the private markets, including from U.S. firms like BlackRock, General Atlantic, Silver Lake, and Warburg Pincus.
  • The most recent private valuation, from last fall, was $200 billion. Multiple reports suggest the IPO will target an enterprise value of at least $225 billion.

The joint Hong Kong-Shanghai STAR Market listing is a first, and Axios China editor Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian thinks my "snub" language may be too soft, per an early morning Slack message:

  • "U.S. commentators keep speculating that Hong Kong can't last as a financial hub due to the Hong Kong national security law, but it's clear that China views things differently. (So do I)."

The bottom line: The IPO market is going gangbusters, as public equities bulls continue to stampede away from the real economy, and Ant is at the head of the class.

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