Shares of Alibaba Group and Tencent surged in Hong Kong on Monday as investors bet that China’s regulatory crackdown on the technology sector may be coming to an end. The optimism follows the recent $984 million fine imposed on Ant Group, which was founded by Jack Ma, signaling a potential shift in regulatory approach.
In response to the penalty, Ant Group announced a share buyback that values the company at a 75% discount to its previously anticipated valuation in the aborted IPO plan. Despite the discount, the buyback is seen as providing liquidity and certainty for investors.
The suspension of Ant’s IPO in late 2020 marked the beginning of a broader regulatory crackdown by the Chinese government, impacting industries ranging from technology to education. This scrutiny led to uncertainty in the operating environment and substantial declines in share prices for companies like Alibaba, Tencent, and Meituan.
In addition to Ant, Chinese authorities announced a fine of nearly 3 billion yuan ($414.88 million) against Tencent’s online payment platform, Tenpay, for violations related to customer data management.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) stated that most of the major issues in the financial businesses of platform companies have been addressed, and regulators will now focus on overall industry regulation rather than specific companies.
Market analysts view this announcement as a significant milestone towards establishing a more regular and transparent regulatory environment for China’s internet companies.
Shares of Alibaba rose by 3.2% at the lunch break in Hong Kong, while Tencent’s shares climbed by 1.5%, both outperforming the broader index.
The valuation of Ant Group has been significantly reduced, with the buyback proposal valuing the company at around $78.5 billion. This is a substantial decrease from the $315 billion valuation in 2020 that was anticipated in its planned IPO.
While the finalization of Ant’s penalty paves the way for the firm to secure a financial holding company license and potentially revive its IPO plans, analysts are uncertain about the timing of a future listing.
The buyback is aimed at providing liquidity to existing investors and retaining talented individuals through employee incentives. Some analysts suggest that the IPO is effectively on hold as Ant pursues its objectives through the buyback instead.
The positive market response to these developments reflects investors’ hopes that regulatory pressure from the Chinese government may ease for companies like Alibaba and Tencent.