Ant’s share repurchase plan values firm around $79 billion, down sharply before crackdown

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Ant's share repurchase plan values firm around $79 billion, down sharply before crackdown © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ant Group sign is seen at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China July 6, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Ant Group on Saturday announced a share repurchase plan that values the fintech giant at 567.1 billion yuan ($78.54 billion), as the management seeks to replenish its staff incentive pool and let some investors exit after a regulatory overhaul of the firm.

It marked a sharp fall in the $300 billion-plus value ascribed to the company in mid-2020, before its IPO planned for later that year was pulled.

Ant said it had proposed to all of its shareholders to repurchase up to 7.6% of its equity interest at a price that represents a group valuation of approximately 567.1 billion yuan.

“The repurchased shares will be transferred into Ant Group’s employee incentive plans to attract talents. The repurchase proposal will also provide a liquidity option for the company’s investors,” it said.

Ant’s major shareholders, Hangzhou Junhan Equity Investment Partnership and Hangzhou Junao Equity Investment Partnership, have voluntarily decided not to participate in the repurchase, the company added.

“The buyback price is higher than the valuations made by many institutions internally…so I believed that some institutions will choose to participate in the buyback,” said Hanyang Wang, an analyst at 86Research.

“At the same time, initiating a stock buyback also indirectly informs investors that the possibility of a short-term IPO recovery is unlikely.”

China’s central bank said on Friday that financial regulators would fine Ant and its subsidiaries a total of 7.12 billion yuan in a move that marked the end to a years-long regulatory overhaul of the fintech company and a key step to concluding a crackdown on the country’s internet sector.

Ant’s penalty is seen to pave the way for the fintech firm to secure a financial holding company license, focus on bolstering growth, and eventually, revive its plans for a stock market listing.

Founded by billionaire Jack Ma, Ant operates China’s ubiquitous mobile payment app Alipay as well as consumer lending and insurance products distribution businesses among others.

Ant in April 2021 embarked on a sweeping business restructuring, which included turning itself into a financial holding company that would subject it to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks.

For the broader technology sector, Ant’s fine marks a key step towards the conclusion of China’s bruising crackdown on private enterprises, which began with the scrapping of Ant’s IPO in late 2020 and subsequently wiped billions off the market value of several companies.

On Friday, Chinese authorities also announced fines against two Chinese banks, an insurer, and Tencent Holdings (OTC:)’ online payment platform Tenpay.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said that most of the prominent problems for platform companies’ financial businesses have been rectified and that regulators would now shift from focusing on specific firms to the overall regulation of the industry.

($1 = 7.2205 renminbi)

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