Jack Ma's Ant sells China media firm shares as scrutiny from Beijing persists

Ant Group held about 18 per cent of tech outlet 36Kr Holdings as of early 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Billionaire Jack Ma's Ant Group sold its entire stake in the tech outlet 36Kr Holdings, the latest asset disposal in its bid to comply with demands by China's regulators.

The fintech giant's exit from the tech news service was disclosed in a United States regulatory filing on Friday (March 11). In early March, China's banking regulator said Ant has yet to complete rectification efforts sought by the authorities.

Ant and its backer Alibaba Group Holding are among companies seeking to appease regulators concerned over technology giants' growing influence. More than a year ago, the Chinese government scuttled Ant's US$37 billion (S$50.6 billion) initial public offering on the eve of its debut, kicking off a sweeping crackdown to rein in tech corporations.

Ant held about 18 per cent of 36Kr as at early last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Founded in 2010, the US-listed media company has in recent years gained a reputation for pioneering an online news business akin to TechCrunch and at one point said it served more than 150 million readers.

Shares of Alibaba, which owns a third of Ant, fell 10 per cent in New York on Monday, while 36Kr Holdings tumbled 12 per cent.

China Banking and Regulatory Commission chairman Guo Shuqing said this month that Beijing's overall rectification campaign for Ant and 13 other Chinese fintech platforms was not over, despite a "smooth" completion of their self-inspection efforts. Multiple Chinese regulators told the country's largest state-owned firms and banks to report their financial exposure to Ant, in a fresh round of regulatory scrutiny, sources familiar with the matter said in February.

Beijing has previously pressed Alibaba to sell off assets in its sprawling media portfolio, including its major stake in the Twitter-like Weibo and streaming platform Youku, in a bid to curb the company's influence over social media in China. This followed an online scandal involving one of its executives.

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