Jack Ma’s Ant Receives Hong Kong Exchange Approval for IPO

Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. won approval from the Hong Kong stock exchange for its initial public offering, clearing a key hurdle as the Chinese fintech giant races to complete the sale ahead of the U.S. election.

Ant received a letter from the exchange to proceed with the Hong Kong IPO, a person familiar with the matter said. The firm now needs to complete a registration with Chinese regulators for the Shanghai portion of the sale, a person familiar said. A representative for the company declined to comment. The Hong Kong stock exchange declined to comment in an emailed statement.

Once it has all the approvals in place, Ant will hold a roadshow of at least 3.5 days to pitch the shares to investors, the people said. That may give it enough time to price the offering as soon as next week, ahead of the U.S. election when some expect ballot counting delays to spark prolonged market volatility.

The Hangzhou-based company is seeking to raise $35 billion in the dual listing, with about half to be raised in each of Hong Kong and Shanghai, people familiar with the matter have said. Ant’s IPO could be the world’s biggest, surpassing Saudi Aramco’s record $29 billion sale last year.

“It looks like a very good deal, so people still have high enthusiasm for this IPO,” Shawn Yang, managing director at Blue Lotus Capital Advisors told Bloomberg TV, adding that the U.S. tension won’t curb interest. “Investors are more focused on fundamental issues like the growth and the competitive landscape. There are no obvious weaknesses for Ant at this point.”

The tech giant could have an IPO valuation of at least $280 billion, people familiar have said, making it bigger than Bank of America Corp. and three times the size of Citigroup Inc.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which owns about a third of Ant, rose as much as 1.1% to HK$300.40 in Hong Kong, a record high since it began trading there last year.

The one-week gap in Hong Kong between the pricing of an IPO and the start of trading means investors would be left exposed to an increase in volatility if Ant doesn’t complete the IPO before the Nov. 3 U.S. vote.

People within the Trump administration are exploring possible bans on Ant, as well as rival Tencent Holdings Ltd., over concerns that their digital payment platforms threaten U.S. national security.

Ant won’t seek so-called cornerstone investors for Hong Kong, but will invite big backers for its Shanghai sale to mitigate price fluctuations, people familiar have said. The firm is planning to issue new stock equal to about 11% to 15% of its outstanding shares, the people added. Cornerstone investors, more common in Hong Kong than in other markets, are usually large institutions that agree to hold the shares for about six months in exchange for a sizable allocation.

Ant picked China International Capital Corp., Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley to lead its Hong Kong offering. CICC and CSC Financial Co. are leading the Shanghai leg of the IPO.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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