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Ant Group raises $34 billion in world's largest IPO

CNN logo CNN 10/27/2020 By Sherisse Pham and Julia Horowitz, CNN Business
a man and a woman standing in a room: People walk past the reception desk at the Ant Group Co. headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Jack Ma's Ant Group is seeking to raise $17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won't seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images © Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images People walk past the reception desk at the Ant Group Co. headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Jack Ma's Ant Group is seeking to raise $17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won't seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jack Ma's Ant Group has just pulled off the biggest share sale in history, marking a huge win for the Chinese tech champion and the country's stock market.

The tech company behind China's largest online payments platform priced its dual listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai's Star Market at 80 Hong Kong dollars ($10.32) and 68.8 yuan ($10.26) per share respectively, according to regulatory filings released Monday.

That means the initial public offering will raise some $34.4 billion and value the company at more than $310 billion. The previous record for an IPO was held by Saudi state oil company Aramco, which raised $29.4 billion when it issued shares on the Riyadh exchange last December.

The share issue is a boon for Beijing, which has been encouraging the country's top tech companies to list at home instead of on exchanges in the United States, where scrutiny of Chinese companies is rising as a long-running trade war rumbles on.

Beijing hopes the company's decision to sell 1.67 billion shares in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, or about 11% of the company in total, will attract the seasoned institutional investors it has long courted. That strategy appears to be working.

Ant is closing its Hong Kong institutional book building on Wednesday, a day earlier than scheduled, because of strong demand from global institutional investors, a source familiar with the matter told CNN Business. The Hong Kong shares were oversubscribed within the first hour of pricing.

Powerful tech giant

Ant is the financial technology company affiliated with Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 in what was also a world-record setting IPO. Billionaire Ma has ultimate control over Ant, and is due to profit handsomely from the share sale.

Mirroring Ma's success with Alibaba, Ant has quickly grown into most powerful tech companies in the world. It has established its presence in every aspect of financial life in China, from investment accounts and micro savings products to insurance, credit scores and even dating profiles.

The company's payments app Alipay had 731 million monthly active users as of September, Ant said in regulatory filings. The platform handled 118 trillion yuan ($17.7 trillion) in payments in the 12 months through June.

The company said revenue for the nine months ended in September rose about 43% to 118.2 billion yuan ($17.7 billion) compared to the same period last year. Gross profit for the period rose 74% to 69.5 billion yuan ($10.4 billion).

Xiaomeng Lu, senior geotechnology analyst at Eurasia Group, said that Ant is also poised to benefit from the Chinese government's latest economic development plans, which are being drawn up this week.

"Ant is being viewed as this national technology champion — it's investing in AI, it's investing in blockchain," Lu said. These are priorities for Chinese President Xi Jinping, she added.

Whether Ant can keep growing apace, however, is an open question. Lu noted that Ant faces tough competition inside China from rival Tencent, while potential regulatory pressure from countries like the United States could limit opportunities abroad.

US-China fallout

Geopolitical considerations have already been a major background factor in Ant's IPO.

A growing number of Chinese companies have been seeking refuge on national exchanges as tensions between Washington and Beijing ramp up, and Ant's success could encourage more firms to follow suit, according to Brock Silvers, chief investment officer at Kaiyuan Capital and former chief investment officer at Adamas Asset Management.

US threats and restrictions against Chinese tech companies such as Huawei, TikTok and WeChat have sent a clear warning, while scrutiny of Chinese firms on Wall Street is rising.

Luckin Coffee was kicked off the Nasdaq following the disclosure of major accounting irregularities. US lawmakers, government agencies and stock exchanges have since taken steps aimed at limiting Beijing's access to America's vast capital markets.

This environment is likely a major reason Ant chose to list on exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong, rather than follow Alibaba to Wall Street. In the long run, that could benefit China, directing money to its markets as investors rush to snap up Ant shares.

The shares are due to start trading in Hong Kong on November 5. The listing will push the market capitalization of the Shanghai Stock Exchange close to that of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, according to Lu.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect price for the shares listing in Shanghai.

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