Ant Group IPO may be delayed by six months

Chinese FinTech’s valuation could reduce drastically after coming under the radar of regulators

FILE PHOTO: An employee stands next to the logo of Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba's financial affiliate, at its headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Shu Zhang/File Photo
Powered by automated translation

Ant Group's initial public offering to raise $37 billion could be delayed by at least six months and its valuation sharply reduced after the Chinese government intervened and halted its trading debut this week, according to the Financial Times.

A senior central bank official said on Friday that the decision to suspend Ant Group’s planned IPO was based on a comprehensive consideration about safeguarding the interests of financial consumers and investors.

“The decision was made in accordance with laws and regulations ... and about maintaining stable, healthy market development in the long term,” Liu Guoqiang, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, told reporters.

At the media briefing, Liang Tao, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, echoed Mr Liu's view.

“The CBIRC also supports this decision made by the Shanghai Stock Exchange,” Mr Liang said. “Any listed company must comply with the requirements of relevant laws and regulations. We encourage the financial sector to explore reasonable innovation while putting risks under control,” Mr Liang told reporters.

“At the same time, we will regulate FinTech in accordance with its nature of finance, and include all financial activities into the regulatory framework.”

Shares of China’s biggest financial technology group were due to begin trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong on Thursday. But the Shanghai Stock Exchange suspended what was touted to be the world’s largest IPO on Tuesday night after founder Jack Ma was called in for “supervisory interviews” by related agencies.

China’s regulators warned that Mr Ma’s firm faces increased scrutiny and will be subject to the same restrictions on capital and leverage as banks. Mr Ma, Ant’s billionaire co-founder, was summoned to a rare joint meeting on Monday with the country’s central bank and three other top financial regulators.

Lawyers involved in Ant's listing said the company would have to respond to Chinese regulators' demands and submit a new IPO prospectus in Hong Kong, which could take at least six months, the Financial Times reported.

We encourage the financial sector to explore reasonable innovation while putting risks under control

The draft regulations could weigh heavily on Ant’s lending business, which drove about 40 per cent of its sales in the first half, and have an impact on the company’s valuation.

The rules require internet platforms to provide at least 30 per cent of the funding of their loans and to cap loans at Rmb300,000 ($44,843) or a third of a borrower’s annual salary, whichever is lower. Currently, Ant funds only 2 per cent of its total loans with the rest coming from other sources such as banks.

Based on estimates that Ant has Rmb1.8tn ($271bn) in consumer loans outstanding, research company Morningstar calculates it will have to hold Rmb540bn in loans on its balance sheet.

Market experts said the FinTech company may have to alter its business models to keep up with the regulations.

The new rules could make Ant's business model more like a bank, a sector that is highly regulated, cited Financial Times, quoting investors. It could also leave Ant's balance sheet more exposed in the event of loans turning sour.

The value of Ant depends on the extent to which [the] new rules are implemented

“The value of Ant depends on the extent to which [the] new rules are implemented,” said a Shanghai-based fund manager who subscribed to Ant’s IPO. “If they get strictly carried out, Ant would be worth less than half of what it is now.”

Sources Financial Times spoke to claim that there are some hopes within Ant that there could be changes to the draft regulations, including the requirements on funding.

The FinTech company’s IPO would have given it a market value of about $315bn based on filings, bigger than JPMorgan Chase and four times larger than Goldman Sachs Group.

The IPO had attracted at least $3 trillion of orders from individual investors for its dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Ant said following the meeting with regulators that it will “implement the meeting opinions in depth” and follow guidelines including stable innovation, an embrace of supervision and service to the real economy.

The Hangzhou-based company, a 2010 offshoot of e-commerce giant Alibaba, dominates China’s payments market via the Alipay app. It also runs the giant Yu’ebao money market fund and two of the country’s largest consumer lending platforms. Other businesses include a credit scoring unit and an insurance marketplace.