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Ant Group IPO could get back on track if it resolves issues, China's central bank governor suggests

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Key Points
  • Ant Group's initial public offering (IPO) could resume if the company resolves its issues, Yi Gang, governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC) hinted.
  • In not so clear cut comments, Yi said that if the "legal procedure" is followed, Ant Group "will have the result" potentially of an IPO.
  • The Ant Group IPO, which would have been the biggest in history, was pulled by regulators just days before it was due to begin trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong in November.
A logo of Ant Group is pictured at the headquarters of the company, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 29, 2020.
Aly Song | Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China — Ant Group's initial public offering (IPO) could resume if the company resolves its issues, China's central bank governor hinted on Tuesday.

The Ant Group IPO, which would have been the biggest in history, was pulled by regulators just days before it was due to begin trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong in November.

At the time, the Shanghai Stock Exchange said Ant Group reported "significant issues such as the changes in financial technology regulatory environment" that meant it might fall foul of listing rules.

The suspension of the IPO also came shortly after Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, which owns roughly a third of Ant Group, made some comments that appeared critical of China's financial regulator.

During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, Yi Gang, governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), called the situation a "complicated issue," emphasizing the process is "rule by law" and needs to follow "legal procedure."

Ant Group will need to address issues such as user privacy, Yi added.

"I would say that this a process and .. (once the) problem solved, it will go back to the track to continue the consideration according to law," Yi said.

When asked if this would lead to an IPO, Yi said Ant Group should "just follow the standard of legal structure you will have the result."

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Ant Group's IPO listing delayed in Hong Kong, Shanghai

While the PBOC governor's comments did not explicitly greenlight an IPO, they indicated that Ant Group could have a path forward to listing. Analysts previously told CNBC however that the valuation, which was initially at over $300 billion, could fall to under $150 billion.

Ant Group runs the popular mobile payments app Alipay in China but over the years has expanded into areas such as lending and wealth management. Regulators are concerned that Ant poses a systemic risk to the economy.

The PBOC has asked Ant Group to come up with a rectification plan for its business and a timetable to implement it.

Authorities in China have looked to tighten regulations in the financial technology space. In October, the Chinese central bank and regulators issued new draft rules for online micro-lending, which could affect Ant Group.

But this is part of a broader regulatory push, one that has seen Ma's technology empire come under scrutiny. Not only is Ant Group in the crosshairs, but the China's State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) has begun a probe into e-commerce giant Alibaba over monopolistic practices.

SAMR has also published draft rules looking to stop monopolistic practices by internet platforms. It is one of the most wide-sweeping proposals in China to regulate large tech companies.