November 6, 2020
Image: Getty Images AsiaPac / Protocol
Hello! This week: Why Ant's IPO might have been pulled, the changing trends of SPACs and Airbnb's impending IPO.
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When Ant Group's IPO was pulled by the Chinese government on Tuesday, all eyes — including mine — immediately went to Jack Ma's speech from a week earlier, in which he publicly criticized China's financial regulation. The suspension looked like a clear act of retaliation: China was showing Ma who's really boss. And that explanation certainly holds some truth.
But the reality is likely much more complicated. "I can't quite believe that [regulators are] so petty that they suspended the IPO simply because of Jack Ma's angry speech," Fraser Howie, co-author of "Red Capitalism," told me this morning.
To understand what's really going on, it's important to look at draft regulations that China had been planning for weeks and finally published on Monday. Under the proposed rules, online lenders like Ant would have to make at least 30% of their loans themselves, rather than outsourcing them to other companies. That compares to a roughly 2% requirement today.
Ma apparently knew all about these new rules, even though they were only made public Monday. The FT reports that at the time of his speech, Ma was privately discussing the rules with regulators. And people across the fintech industry knew regulation like this was inevitable. "They did not write these regulations … [in] three days," Howie said.
All that raises a big question: Was Ant trying to list before these new rules came into effect in an effort to achieve a higher valuation?
The upshot? While some think the pulled listing might hurt investor demand for Chinese shares, the opposite could be true. "I don't want to give Chinese regulators too much credit," Howie said, "but I also don't want to just dismiss out of hand the fact that they've probably done a lot of investors a service."
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