China Set to Fine Ant More Than $1 Billion, Reuters Reports
(Bloomberg) — Chinese authorities are planning to impose a fine of more than $1 billion on Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co., paving the way for the ending of a regulatory overhaul of the financial technology firm, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
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The central bank is preparing the penalty, which could land in the second quarter of next year, the news agency said, adding that the regulator has been in touch with Ant about the plans. Ant and the central bank didn’t respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. The firm also didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment from Bloomberg News.
A yearslong crackdown on the private sectors that included the halt of Ant’s massive initial public offering in 2020, is now showing signs of winding down. President Xi Jinping recently issued market friendly policies by relaxing inbound travel restrictions and rolling out a package of measures to support the property market.
“It’s not a big fine, it’s more a slap on the wrist,” said Kerry Goh, chief investment officer at Kamet Capital Partners Pte. “This removes the overhang of regulatory risk and it’s just a further sign that we are closer to the end of the regulatory cycle.”
Tencent Holdings Ltd. this month won approval for its first new major game title since China resumed licensing this year. Any signs that show regulators are intending to wrap up investigations on Ant, would add to this month’s wave of optimism in the markets.
Ant has been restructuring its operations, including beefing up capital, curbing consumer lending and shuffling management. The company is waiting for regulators to accept its application for a financial holding license that would place it under similar restrictions as traditional banks, a necessary move to ensure its survival.
In a filing in July, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. reiterated that Ma “intends to reduce and thereafter limit his direct and indirect economic interest in Ant Group over time” to a percentage that doesn’t exceed 8.8%.
Ant’s profit dropped 63% profit in the three months ended in June.
“It’s a removal of overhang and paves the way for a revisit on IPO, and usually marks the end of the regulatory rectification,” said Vey-Sern Ling, managing director at Union Bancaire Privee.
–With assistance from John Cheng.
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