Ant Group said to lift already biggest-IPO target to $48b

HONG KONG • Jack Ma's Ant Group is seeking to raise at least US$35 billion (S$47.5 billion) in its initial public offering (IPO) after assessing early-investor interest, people familiar with the matter said, putting the Chinese fintech giant on track for a record debut sale.

Ant lifted its IPO target based on an increased valuation of about US$250 billion, up from estimates of US$225 billion, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. It was earlier expecting to raise at least US$30 billion, people familiar have said.

Ant's simultaneous listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai may mark the biggest IPO ever, topping Saudi Aramco's record US$29 billion sale. Ant could exceed Bank of America Corp's market capitalisation, and be more than twice the size of Citigroup. Among US banks, only JPMorgan Chase & Co is bigger at US$300 billion.

The company received a nod from regulators in Shanghai on Friday to proceed with its public share sale. In the wake of its IPO plans, it has been hit by a flurry of new regulations aimed at reducing risks in China's online finance sector. Regulators have curbed small-loan funding sources, capped lending rates and imposed new capital and licence requirements on Ant and other conglomerates.

The Hangzhou-based company is seeking a hearing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday to clear the next key hurdle, the people said. Ant declined to comment in an e-mailed statement.

The company has picked China International Capital Corp, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley for its Hong Kong sale.

Ant, which grew out of the Alipay payments app, now gets the bulk of its revenue from providing quick consumer loans, fuelling China's growing consumer spending. It also runs an insurance business and money market funds, on top of providing credit scoring and technological services for the finance sector.

Alipay has 711 million active users, mostly in China, who tap it to buy everything from a quick coffee to even property, generating US$17 trillion in payments in the 12 months through June. For those who don't have ready cash to spend via Alipay, Ant operates services that dole out small unsecured loans: Huabei (Just Spend) and Jiebei (Just Lend). The former focuses on quick consumer loans for purchases of iPhones and fridges, while the latter finances anything from travel to education.

Ant uses some of its capital for loans, but the bulk of the money comes from banks, with the firm acting as a gateway. The platforms made loans to 500 million people in the 12 months through June, charging annualised rates on smaller loans of about 15 per cent.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Ant Group said to lift already biggest-IPO target to $48b'. Print Edition | Subscribe