Jack Ma’s Ant Group float attracts bids worth $3 trillion

Telegraph reporters
·5-min read
Ant Financial logo
Ant Financial logo

Jack Ma’s Ant Group has attracted at least $3 trillion of orders from individual investors for its dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai – enough to buy JPMorgan 10 times over.

Bidding was so intense in Hong Kong that one brokerage’s platform briefly shut down after becoming overwhelmed by orders. Demand for the retail portion in Shanghai exceeded initial supply by more than 870 times.

The stampede is fueling predictions of a first-day pop when Ant is due to start trading on Thursday, even as skeptics warn of risks including the US election, tightening regulations in China and rising Covid-19 infections worldwide.

The Chinese fintech behemoth’s $35bn (£26bn) float represents a major vote of confidence in a company that could end up shaping the future of global finance. It also underscores the ability of Chinese firms to attract huge amounts of capital without tapping American markets, a win for Beijing as it tries to reduce its vulnerability to the threat of US financial sanctions.

Profile | Jack Ma
Profile | Jack Ma

Chen Wu, a 35-year-old software developer, was among those scrambling for a piece of Ant’s offering this week. His brokerage allowed a small number of clients to supercharge their bets using 33 times leverage, handing out allocations on a first-come, first-served basis.

“When it was released at noon, I refreshed my page again and again, clicked and clicked,” Wu said on Tuesday after ordering a HK$5.7m (£567,700) block of Ant shares, equivalent to more than 80pc of his existing equity portfolio. “I got it around 12:01 p.m. and the quota ran out within minutes. I was lucky.”

Ant is no doubt benefiting from the unusually buoyant mood among retail investors globally, but it’s not just small retail investors driving demand. Big-name money managers including Temasek, T. Rowe Price and UBS Asset Management are also angling for allocations.

Institutions and strategic investors may take up about 96pc of the offering in Shanghai and 97.5pc in Hong Kong, according to Ant’s prospectus, though the figures may change due to clawback and greenshoe provisions.

Retail investors are still likely to have a significant impact once trading begins – particularly in Shanghai where individuals drive the vast majority of daily turnover.

About 5.2m retail accounts placed a record 19 trillion yuan (£2.1 trillion) of orders for Ant shares on the city’s Star market, where participants are required to have a minimum 500,000 yuan in their accounts.

In Hong Kong, the retail portion attracted more than HK$1.3 trillion of orders as of 11am local time on Friday, or 394 times the initial supply, the South China Morning Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Many investors in the city took advantage of historically low interest rates to amplify their bets with borrowed money. Futu Securities, the brokerage that suffered a brief outage due to a flood of orders on Tuesday, said its margin quota for Ant was used up in about 20 minutes.

Watch: What are negative interest rates?

Banks and brokerages have provided at least HK$519 billion of margin loans to retail punters, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal. “There has been unprecedented investor interest,” said Jasper Chan at Phillip Securities, which allocated all of the HK$20bn it set aside for Ant margin loans on the first day they became available.

He said demand for the float has been more broad- based than usual because of the small minimum lot size of 50 shares, which equates to about HK$4,040.

Yuki Chung, a 30-year-old university teaching assistant in Hong Kong, said she planned to bid for HK$500,000 of Ant shares, 90pc of which will be funded with borrowed money.

“Margin rates offered by banks can be less than 1pc, which is definitely very attractive,” she said. “Everyone is taking part in the IPO, so I feel like I should too. I don’t want to lose out.” Others are wary of placing too much faith in a rally.

Elle Lam, a 28-year-old media professional who has invested in several Hong Kong floats this year, planned to order just one 50- share lot of Ant, using the rest of her available cash to bid on the Hong Kong government’s upcoming issuance of inflation-linked bonds.

“People are certainly too hyped up,” Lam said. “I think Ant’s valuation is too expensive, so the gain on the debut day could be limited.”

The IPO price translates into a multiple of about 36 times estimated 2021 earnings, surpassing average valuations for both global payments companies and large Hong Kong-listed tech stocks, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Still, rich valuations haven’t been a deterrent for Hong Kong IPOs of late.

Bottled water giant Nongfu Spring Co., which debuted in the city last month after receiving orders for 1,148 times the amount of shares it initially set aside for retail investors, is now valued at about 55 times estimated earnings after soaring 65pc from its offering price.

“I think Ant can rise 30pc-40pc in the first day,” said Wu, the software developer who took on debt to buy shares. “I’m not too worried about the performance.”

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