Jack Ma’s net worth has tumbled by $12 billion since the end of October when China stepped up scrutiny of his empire and the country’s tech behemoths.
The 56-year-old former English teacher — often associated with the meteoric rise of China’s internet sector — reached a peak of $61.7 billion this year and was poised to regain the title of Asia’s wealthiest person. He’s since slipped to 25th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a list of the world’s 500 richest people.
While the co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has been at the center of the clampdown, he isn’t the only one feeling the squeeze.
Increased government scrutiny is forcing investors to rethink their holdings after the explosive demand for online services brought by the coronavirus lockdowns sent those stocks surging earlier this year. In recent weeks, China’s tech giants have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in market value. “Pony” Ma Huateng’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. has dropped 15% since early November and Wang Xing’s food delivery giant Meituan is down by almost a fifth from its peak last month. Alibaba’s American depositary receipts have declined almost 25% since late October.
“There is a wave of similar signals showing that China’s tech giants are staying on the radar of authorities,” said Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategy research at China Renaissance Securities Hong Kong. “The anti-monopoly drafted guidance and antitrust review are just two of those signals.”
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Ma’s problems began just as he was preparing to to take payments company Ant Group Co. public. Instead, Chinese regulators pulled what would have been the world’s largest initial public offering.
The halt of Ant’s $35 billion IPO just two days before its scheduled debut in November was one of the first signs of China’s crackdown on an industry that’s gained influence over the daily lives of hundreds of millions. Following that, the nation’s authorities slapped additional restrictions on the consumer-lending sector, proposed new rules to curb the dominance of internet giants, and fined Alibaba and a Tencent unit over acquisitions from years ago. Closer government scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions could add uncertainty to the growth of the internet behemoths.
“If similar deals happen in the U.S. or Europe — for example, if Facebook merges with Google tomorrow — their authorities will be cautious too,” said Liu Cheng, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons in Beijing. “The tech giants need to pay more attention to the compliance of their daily operations.”
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Despite the recent slide, China’s internet moguls have all managed to add to their fortunes on a surge in their companies’ shares earlier this year. The 21 Chinese tech billionaires that the Bloomberg index tracks have gained more than $170 billion in 2020. Even Ma’s net worth is up $2.7 billion.
By contrast, titans of traditional sectors such as real estate have been hammered. China Evergrande Group Chairman Hui Ka Yan has lost $7.6 billion in 2020, more than anyone else in the world.
China’s pledge to step up antitrust efforts and prevent the disorderly expansion of capital will continue to be a focus for the government next year, China Renaissance’s Pang said. A more regulated tech industry will help push domestic consumption and grow the post-covid economy as the rest of the world struggles to contain the pandemic, he said.
“We view the latest regulatory move as a continuing effort on China’s regulatory reform path, seeking to achieve more market fairness and encourage healthy development of the whole economy as well as of areas where internet companies’ potential monopoly power has a material impact,” Pang said.
(Updates with Alibaba share decline in fourth paragraph.)