China’s central leadership has given billionaire Jack Ma’s (馬雲) Ant Group Co (螞蟻集團) a tentative green light to revive its initial public offering (IPO), two sources with knowledge of the matter said, in the clearest sign yet that Beijing is easing its crackdown on the tech sector.
Ant, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴), aims to file a preliminary prospectus for the share offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong as early as next month, the sources said, declining to be named.
The financial technology giant must wait for guidance from the China Securities Regulatory Commission on the specific timing of the prospectus filing, one of the sources said.
The company’s stock market listing was hastily shelved at the behest of Beijing in November 2020. At the time, it was slated to be valued at about US$315 billion and planned to raise US$37 billion, which would have been a world record.
“Under the guidance of regulators, we are focused on steadily moving forward with our rectification work and do not have any plan to initiate an IPO,” Ant said on its WeChat account late on Thursday.
Ant wants to keep the IPO revival plans low profile pending a formal announcement, after having attracted regulatory attention in its first attempt in 2020 with the waves the offering created as the world’s largest ever equity float, a separate source with direct knowledge of the matter said.
With its economy slowing in a politically sensitive year when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as party leader, Beijing is looking to loosen it grip on private businesses, including tech giants, to help meet a growth target of 5.5 percent.
“They are rolling back on their crackdown to counterbalance the lockdown they’ve had. Any data out of China lately has been dreadful because of lockdowns, and the last thing they want to do is compound that issue. In the next three to six months we are likely to see China’s crackdown unwound,” London-based Equiti Capital market analyst David Madden said.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴) last month told tech executives that the government supports the development of the sector, and would back firms pursuing listings at home and abroad.
In another sign of Beijing’s softer stance, China’s ride-hailing company Didi Global (滴滴), which has been under a cybersecurity probe since last year, is in advanced talks to buy one-third of a state-backed electric vehicle maker, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
News of the talks comes after the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Chinese regulators are set to conclude their investigations into Didi, which could offer hope to investors about its recovery.
The US listed shares of Alibaba, which owns nearly one-third of Ant, were down 7 percent after earlier rising 7 percent in pre-market trading.
“The size of Ant and the IPO will have to be smaller than what was planned in 2020, because the market conditions have changed and cannot be compared to now,” said Dickie Wong (黃德几), executive director of Kingston Securities (金利豐證券) in Hong Kong.
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