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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.

Go deeper

Bipartisan group of lawmakers unveils $908 billion COVID stimulus proposal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Capitol in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package, in one of the few concrete steps toward COVID relief made by Congress in several months.

Why it matters: Recent data shows that the economic recovery is floundering as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals threaten to be overwhelmed heading into what is likely to be a grim winter.

Dec 2, 2020 - World

Hong Kong activists sentenced to prison over pro-democracy protests

Pro-democracy activists Ivan Lam (L) and Joshua Wong (C) board a correctional service van ahead of a sentence hearing at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were handed prison sentences Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges of organizing and inciting an unauthorised assembly during last year's massive protests.

The big picture: Wong will serve 13.5 months, Chow 10 months, and Lam seven months, per a statement from activists posted to Wong's Twitter page. The trio were remanded on Nov. 23, and Wong had tweeted about conditions in custody ahead of sentencing.

Go deeper: China's iron curtain descends on Hong Kong

Dec 3, 2020 - World

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai detained on fraud charge

An activist holds a placard highlighting China's Tiananmen Square massacre as pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong in November. Photo: Isaac Wong/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is being detained until an April court hearing after the pro-democracy supporter was charged Thursday with fraud, per his Apple Daily news outlet.

Why it matters: The 72-year-old's arrest and denial of bail is another blow for the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony amid concerns about a fresh crackdown on activists.