Nov 3, 2020 - Economy

How we got here: China pulls plug on Ant IPO

Image of China media investments

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

China is the biggest business story on Election Day in America.

What's happening: The country abruptly pulled the plug on Ant Group's IPO, which was expected to happen Thursday and be the biggest public offering ever.

Why it matters: Although the IPO would have helped catapult the financial industry toward China, the country suspended the offering at the last minute in an apparent rebuke to billionaire Jack Ma, Ant's controlling shareholder.

  • The anticipated $35 billion offering would have also been a landmark moment for Xi Jinping's nascent Nasdaq-like "STAR" stock exchange.

How we got here:

  • Aug. 24: Ant files IPO prospectus.
  • Sep. 16: China’s banking watchdog issues new rules to cap the use of asset-backed securities to fund quick consumer loans — a move that impacted Ant.
  • Oct. 18: China securities commission gives Ant the green light for its IPO plan.
  • Oct. 21: Hong Kong's exchange approves Ant IPO.
  • Oct. 25: Ma gives a speech criticizing international banking regulations, saying the rules are being enforced by "an old people's club."
  • Oct. 26: Ant discloses plan to raise $34.4 billion in the IPO, or roughly $17.2 billion in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
  • Nov. 2: The Wall Street Journal and other outlets report Ma, along with Ant Groups' chairman and CEO, met with four regulatory bodies in China — including its central bank.
  • Today: The Shanghai Stock Exchange says Ant no longer meets the requirements to be listed. Ant subsequently pulls the Hong Kong listing.

Where it stands: China-watchers say skepticism from China's regulators about Ant is less at play here than are politics around founder Ma's sharp critical statements on financial regulation in the country made during a late October speech.

  • What they're saying: "To do this so late and this dramatically, it had to be a political decision," the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Jim Lewis tells Axios.

The big picture: The listing was set to lure investors from all around the globe. Small investors submitted an eye-popping $2.8 trillion worth of orders for the stock.

  • It would have been the most high-profile company to list on the Shanghai Stock Exchange Science and Technology Innovation Board, a bourse launched last year at the request of Xi in an attempt to compete with the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite.

The public market reaction: Shares of Alibaba, which owns one-third of Ant, were hit hard by the news, with the stock closing down more than 8%.

  • Alibaba's stock price hit all-time highs in recent weeks in anticipation of the Ant IPO.

Worth noting: China-based online lender and web investment company Lufax — which was met with a volatile market debut when it started trading in the U.S. last week — said in a statement it didn't expect China's new regulations to have an impact on its business.

  • Lufax shares fell 10%.

What to watch: Alibaba reports earnings on Thursday. Ant's scrapped IPO is expected
to come up in the company's call with analysts that morning.

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