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China's Ant Group to raise $34 billion in world's biggest IPO

The Alibaba online finance spinoff, which offers people in China a one-stop shop for loans, investments and more, would surpass the $29.4 billion that Saudi Arabia's state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, raised when it went public last year

By Raymond Zhong
Published: Oct 27, 2020

China's Ant Group to raise  billion in world's biggest IPOA man scans an Alipay QR code to get e-vouchers at a store on March 27, 2020 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Hangzhou issued 1.68 billion yuan (237 million U.S. dollars) e-vouchers to promote consumption after the coronavirus outbreak. Local consumers can get the e-vouchers on Alipay and have deductions for offline payments. (Photo by Shang Zeyang/China News Service via Getty Images)

Ant Group, the Chinese financial technology titan, is set to raise around $34 billion when its shares begin trading in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the coming weeks, which would make its initial public offering the largest on record.

The company, the parent of the Alipay mobile payment service, priced its shares around $10.30 apiece, according to documents released Monday by stock exchanges in the two cities. At that price, the company would be worth around $310 billion, a market value comparable to that of JPMorgan Chase and more than that of many other global banks.

The money that Ant raises would surpass the $29.4 billion that Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, raised when it went public last year. Ant’s listing would also be larger than that of its sister company, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which raised $25 billion when its shares started trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

For hundreds of millions of people in China, Alipay may as well be a bank. It is their credit card, debit card, mutual fund and even insurance broker — all on a single mobile platform. It is a lender to small businesses, both online and off, that might otherwise be ignored by China’s big state-run banks. Alipay has more than 730 million monthly users, more than twice the U.S. population. By comparison, PayPal has 346 million active accounts.

Like other giant internet companies, Ant says its strength lies in performing a large number of different tasks at once. The more people use Alipay to purchase lattes, for example, the more data it gathers about their spending power. Ant says this information helps it offer loans, investments and insurance policies that suit users’ needs. The data also helps Ant and its partner banks determine who is likely to pay them back.

Yet the melding of finance and tech is attracting regulators’ interest everywhere, and Ant has not been spared the scrutiny. In recent years, China has clamped down on fishy online lending and investing schemes. Regulatory pressures have led Ant to temper its ambitions in certain areas since it was spun off from Alibaba in 2011.

In the United States, Trump administration officials have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing U.S. products, said three people with knowledge of the matter. In 2018, Ant called off a bid to buy MoneyGram, the money transfer company, after it failed to win the approval of U.S. officials.

Today, the company emphasizes that Alipay is merely the front door through which its users gain access to financial services. The lending and investing are still mostly done by established institutions — a message that was crystallized when the company, which used to be called Ant Financial, dropped the second word from its English name this year.

Last year, Ant earned $2.7 billion in profit on $18 billion in revenue. It says it handled $17 trillion in digital payments in mainland China during the 12 months that ended in June.

©2019 New York Times News Service

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