Ant Group Set for World’s Largest IPO Despite Material Risks to Investors

October 27, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020

WASHINGTON—Ant Technology Group launches its initial public offering (IPO) with a record share sale this week amid concern over national security and the company’s involvement in human rights abuses.

The company is set to raise about $34.5 billion in its dual public listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong. This would mark the biggest IPO of all time, surpassing the previous record set by Saudi Aramco’s $29 billion listing. Ant’s shares are expected to start trading on Nov. 5.

The fintech giant, headquartered in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is the parent company of Alipay, China’s largest digital payment platform.

Ant Group, formerly known as Ant Financial, has attracted substantial interest from U.S. investors. While the company won’t be listed in New York, Americans will be able to invest in the company once its shares are included in emerging markets and international indexes. Most exchange-traded funds and other investment vehicles will hold Ant shares as they benchmark their performances against these indexes.

Ant’s IPO has raised concern in Washington due to national security-related risks associated with the company. In 2018, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) blocked Ant Financial’s acquisition of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram.

Ant and its affiliate Alibaba have also been accused of playing roles in severe human rights abuses in China.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a China hawk, urged the U.S. government to investigate options to delay Ant’s IPO.

Reuters earlier reported that the Trump administration considered putting Ant Group on a trade blacklist known as the “Entity List” due to national security concerns. Being on a trade blacklist would restrict U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese fintech company.

However, several sources who wish to remain anonymous have told The Epoch Times that there’s been a disagreement within the administration over blacklisting Ant Group ahead of its IPO, because of concern that such action could disrupt the U.S. and global financial markets.

The Trump administration officials are instead working on a “broader initiative” to interdict certain transactions involving Chinese stocks, including Ant, a person familiar with the matter told The Epoch Times.

“It certainly does implicate the capital markets in the United States,” the person said, calling it a “pretty big deal.”

The Treasury Department declined to comment to The Epoch Times on the matter.

“I think it’s fair to say that the administration is not backing away from taking on China in the U.S. capital markets for perceived corporate bad actors,” the source said.

The action could be in the form of two executive orders, with the first one being announced within weeks, the person said.

The White House, Commerce Department, and the State Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

With the record IPO pricing, Ant Group would be valued at $313 billion, larger than some of the largest U.S. banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Ant is controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba. This IPO would make Ma, a former English teacher, the world’s 11th richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, surpassing individual members of the Walton family, the owners of Walmart.

A Decade-Long Problem

Through public pension and retirement funds, millions of Americans own stocks in China-based companies that don’t comply with U.S. laws, a problem that has been overlooked for more than a decade. Some of these companies are involved in mass surveillance of Chinese citizens or affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army.

The majority of U.S. investors are unaware of the identities of these companies and their activities. Investment prospectuses, legal documents issued by companies during stock offerings, don’t disclose these potential risks to U.S. investors.

The Trump administration took several actions this year to curb U.S. retirement funds flowing into Chinese stocks. In May, the administration blocked investment by Thrift Savings Plan—the federal government’s retirement savings fund—into Chinese equities.

The U.S. State Department issued a letter on Aug. 18 warning American colleges and universities about the growing influence of the Chinese regime on U.S. campuses. The letter urged the institutions to divest from Chinese stock holdings in their endowments.

In February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned the nation’s governors of China’s influence and urged them to divest Chinese stock from their state pension funds.

In recent months, the White House and Congress have called for greater oversight of Chinese companies in U.S. financial markets.

A working group appointed by President Donald Trump on Aug. 6 released a new plan addressing risks posed by U.S.-listed Chinese companies. Under the plan, U.S. regulators would require all listed companies including Chinese to come into compliance with the U.S. standards by Jan. 1, 2022.

Follow Emel on Twitter: @mlakan