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Ant Group reaches deal with China regulators on restructuring - source

Published 02/03/2021, 04:01 AM
Updated 02/03/2021, 12:35 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A sign of Ant Group is seen during the World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen

By Julie Zhu and Brenda Goh

(Reuters) - Ant Group Co has agreed a restructuring plan with Chinese regulators under which the fintech giant will become a financial holding company, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said, potentially easing founder Jack Ma's regulatory woes.

The plan calls for putting all of Ant's businesses into the holding company, including its payment processing and technology offerings in areas like blockchain and food delivery, the person said, declining to be named due to confidentiality constraints.

Bloomberg News first reported Ant had reached an agreement with Chinese regulators about the proposed restructuring.

An announcement about the restructuring, which will result in the company being subject to capital requirements similar to those for banks, could come before the start of China's Lunar New Year holiday on Feb. 11, the Bloomberg report said.

An agreement on the restructuring of Ant, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group, would ease investor concerns about a regulatory crackdown on billionaire Ma's business empire.

The catalyst for Ma's current woes was an Oct. 24 speech in which he blasted China's regulatory system, leading to the suspension of Ant's $37 billion initial public offering just days before its dual-listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Regulators have since launched an anti-trust probe into the tech sector with Alibaba taking much of the heat, besides pushing Ant to revamp its business structure to bring it under tighter regulatory supervision.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, subsequently disappeared from the public eye for about three months, triggering frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged last month with a 50-second video appearance.

Despite the agreement with the regulator on revamping Ant, whose businesses include consumer lending and insurance products distribution, the anti-trust probe into Alibaba would continue to cloud the outlook for Ma's empire.

Bloomberg's report said that Ant was still exploring opportunities to revive its stock market listing, citing one person familiar with the matter. It said it was unclear how long authorities would need to sign off on a listing.

Ant's financial holding structure is expected to weigh on its valuation, as the fintech firm was valued as a technology firm in its previous fundraising rounds. Typically, valuations are much higher on technology firms than on financial companies.

Ant, which earlier on Wednesday declined to comment on the Bloomberg report, also declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. China's central bank did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Alibaba's Hong Kong-listed shares closed 0.4% higher on Wednesday. They had tumbled early in the session after the company reported third-quarter results and warned it faced a near-term challenge from changing regulations.

It also warned that Ant's business prospects and IPO plans "are subject to substantial uncertainties".

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A sign of Ant Group is seen during the World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen

"Currently, we are unable to make a complete and fair assessment of the impact that these changes and uncertainties will have on Alibaba Group," it said.

Latest comments

great news, that will reassure the market bringing back baba to a normal valuation
Chinas actions prove that any investment into china is extremely risky. At any time they will collapse major negotiations without any concern for its impact.
Oh you mean how US marks any Chinese company as national threat? When US can't prove anything and just use the court to fk them and drag them through mud long enough that innocence doesn't matter any more?
they are a threat.
When you can't compete of course you are "National Security threat"
I guess they finally paid off the right people.....
After a stellar Q4 a great News for China's leading company. Time to top up!
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