(p. A23) Ant Group, China’s biggest fintech conglomerate, was preparing last November for its initial public offering. Analysts projected it would raise $34 billion, the largest sale of shares in history. The company, founded by Jack Ma, had become synonymous with financial innovations, which are often risky.
In the run-up to the I.P.O., Chinese regulators trying to assess financial risks on Ant’s books had been brushed off by Mr. Ma. In an audacious speech, he criticized regulators as too cautious and pilloried state-owned banks for their “pawnshop” mentality of providing loans only to borrowers who could post collateral.
Even oblique attacks on China’s government rarely go unpunished. This was a direct provocation. Yet such was Mr. Ma’s aura, and his apparent imperviousness to government strictures, that domestic and foreign investors were unconcerned.
. . .
Then it all fell apart. Two days before Ant’s shares were to begin trading on the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges, the government blocked the I.P.O.
. . .
It seemed that, in bringing the hammer down on the company, the government aimed to limit its growing economic and political power.
But in so doing, the government spooked investors. Suddenly, President Xi Jinping’s pledges to encourage private enterprise and innovation looked like mere lip service.
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 28, 2021, and has the title “Jack Ma Taunted China. Then Came His Fall.”)