Market debut of Chinese e-finance giant Ant Group postponed

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In this Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 photo, the figure of Ant Group's mascot is displayed at the Ant Group office in Hong Kong. China's Ant Group will try to raise nearly $35 billion in its initial public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which would make it the largest share offering in history. Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group, which operates a suite of financial products including the widely-used Alipay digital wallet in China and one of the world's largest money market funds, will hold dual listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG – The planned stock market debut of the world's biggest online finance company, Ant Group, was suspended in Shanghai and Hong Kong on Tuesday, disrupting a record-setting $34.5 billion initial public offering that highlighted China's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Shanghai stock exchange cited regulatory changes in Ant's industry and a possible failure to meet disclosure requirements but gave no details. Ant said later it would suspend its Hong Kong debut due to the Shanghai suspension. Shares were to have started trading on both exchanges Thursday.

The suspension followed a Monday meeting between regulators and Ant executives including founder Jack Ma, China’s richest entrepreneur. Ma also founded Alibaba Group, the world's biggest e-commerce company by sales volume, which spun off its Alipay payments service to create the company that became Ant Group.

“Views regarding the health and stability of the financial sector were exchanged,” Ant Group said in a prepared statement. The company said it was “committed to implementing the meeting opinions” but gave no details.

“We will continue to improve our capabilities to provide inclusive services and promote economic development to improve the lives of ordinary citizens,” the company said.

Ant apologized to investors and said it would wait for notice from regulators about further developments. U.S.-traded shares of Alibaba closed Tuesday down more than 8%, matching the company’s largest percentage decline since its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ant operates Alipay, the world’s biggest financial technology company and, along with Tencent’s WeChat Pay, one of two dominant electronic payment systems in China.

In a joint statement, the Chinese central bank, securities regulator and other agencies said Monday they had “regulatory interviews” with Ma, Ant Group chairman Eric Jing and president Hu Xiaoming.