China Halts Ant Group’s IPO, Throwing Ma Empire Into Turmoil

China Halts Ant Group’s IPO, Throwing Ma Empire Into Turmoil

It was heralded as China’s answer to JPMorgan — a homegrown financial giant on the cusp of the biggest stock-market debut the world has ever seen.

Instead, with billions on the line and an initial public offering all but sealed, Chinese authorities have abruptly thrown into doubt the future of Ant Group Co. and its celebrated founder, the billionaire Jack Ma.

Only days before the financial-technology juggernaut was to go public in Shanghai and Hong Kong — a coup for China’s financial markets that once would have been unimaginable — the $35 billion IPO was halted on Tuesday after Ma was summoned by regulators. In an extraordinary turn of events, authorities announced that they had belatedly discovered an array of shortcomings that, by some accounts, might require the sprawling Ant to be overhauled.

“The way I’d read it, it’s a deliberate public relations move,” said Sean Darby, chief global equity strategist at Jefferies. “This has happened before when companies appear to have become too big versus the state for the authorities’ liking.”