Alibaba's Jack Ma resurfaces after three months, sparking stock rally

Mr Jack Ma appeared in a live-streamed video yesterday during an annual event he hosted to recognise rural teachers, saying he would spend more time on philanthropy. He did not mention his run-ins with Beijing.
Mr Jack Ma appeared in a live-streamed video yesterday during an annual event he hosted to recognise rural teachers, saying he would spend more time on philanthropy. He did not mention his run-ins with Beijing.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING • Billionaire Jack Ma resurfaced for the first time since China's government began clamping down on his business empire nearly three months ago, appearing in a live-streamed video that sent Alibaba Group Holding's stock soaring.

Mr Ma spoke briefly yesterday during an annual event he hosted to recognise rural teachers.

In one video clip of the event circulated online, China's most famous entrepreneur can be seen touring a primary school in his home town of Hangzhou, the capital of eastern China's Zhejiang province.

Mr Ma, who had stayed out of public view since regulators suspended the initial public offering of his fintech company Ant Group, told the teachers he will spend more time on philanthropy. He did not mention his run-ins with Beijing.

Ant confirmed the authenticity of the video, first posted on an online blog.

Shares of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant co-founded by Mr Ma that owns about a third of Ant, jumped 8.5 per cent in Hong Kong and were up almost the same level in pre-market US trade.

Speculation about Mr Ma's whereabouts and his standing with President Xi Jinping's government had reached fever pitch in recent weeks, after regulators ordered Ant to overhaul its business and began an antitrust investigation of Alibaba. Beijing's crackdown followed an October speech by Mr Ma in which he infamously rebuked "pawn shop" Chinese lenders, regulators who do not get the Internet, and the "old men" of the global banking community.

Mr Ma's comments yesterday struck a much different tone, echoing themes espoused by the ruling Communist Party.

"Recently, my colleagues and I have been studying and thinking. We made a firmer resolution to devote ourselves to education philanthropy," Mr Ma said during the event. "Working hard for rural revitalisation and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen."

But Mr Ma probably is not out of the woods, said Mr Brock Silvers, a managing director at private equity fund Kaiyuan Capital in Hong Kong. "A path acceptable to all parties may have been identified, but Ant Group still looks likely to be dis-aggregated and regulatory restrictions will almost surely take a significant bite out of Ant's former valuation."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2021, with the headline 'Alibaba's Jack Ma resurfaces after three months, sparking stock rally'. Subscribe