Next Digital Jumps 51%, Resuming After Jimmy Lai’s Asset Freeze

Next Digital Ltd. shares surged, after trading resumed almost two weeks since Hong Kong’s national security officials froze assets of the media company’s jailed founder and largest shareholder Jimmy Lai.

The stock jumped as much as 330% before paring gains to close 51% higher at HK$0.28 per share. The firm, owner of the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, said in a statement Wednesday it had applied to the Hong Kong stock exchange for shares to resume trading. The stock had been suspended since authorities used a controversial national security law -- introduced last year in the wake of street protests -- to freeze Lai’s shares, the first such case for a major investor in a listed company.

Next Digital Jumps 51%, Resuming After Jimmy Lai’s Asset Freeze

The media mogul, who is Next Digital’s major source of funding, pleaded guilty this month for his role in organizing an anti-government protest in 2019. He was also sentenced to 14 months in prison for attending unauthorized protests alongside other activists.

Thursday’s jump echoed similar moves last year, when buying Next Digital shares became a popular method for Hong Kongers to show support for pro-democracy advocate Lai.

When he was arrested under the new law in August last year, shares of Next Digital soared more than 1,100% in two days to a seven-year high. Public demonstrations had been curtailed by social distancing restrictions and the national security legislation. Shares jumped again in September after the police arrested a number of people in relation to the August surge. In December they rallied after Lai was denied bail.

Next Digital Jumps 51%, Resuming After Jimmy Lai’s Asset Freeze

Since Beijing imposed the law last year, the government in Hong Kong has disqualified lawmakers, delayed a parliamentary election and charged or jailed dozens of pro-democracy politicians.

In its statement, Next Digital said its cash flow and capital were sufficient for it to maintain operations for at least 18 months ending September next year. The company also said it doesn’t consider a prohibition on Lai’s share dealing “will change or affect the existing trading volume pattern” of its stock.

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