Losing RM12.5bil in one stroke sets tongues wagging

Alibaba's chairman Jack Ma. -filepic

BEIJING: For once, the Chinese are concerned about the wealth of the country’s richest man more than the money in their own pockets.

They have been calculating Jack Ma’s losses since the initial public offering (IPO) saga of his Ant Group, and the figure is estimated to exceed 20 billion yuan (RM12.5bil).

That is 5% of his total assets of 400 billion yuan (RM250bil), a sum revealed by Hurun Research Institute, which listed the Alibaba founder as the nation’s wealthiest man for the third consecutive year.

Media reports said the losses were mostly incurred by the drop of Alibaba’s shares on the US stock market following the news that shook up the global business world.

“Can Ma secure his richest man’s status?”, was what chi gua qun zhong (literally translated as melon-eating public, which refers to busybody onlookers) cared for.

This is because Tencent chairman and chief executive Ma Huateng – also known as Pony Ma – is ranked second on the Hurun China Rich List, with just 10 billion yuan (RM6.25bil) less, and his company Tencent operates the country’s major social media and mobile payment app WeChat.

The Ant Group’s products include Alipay and Huabei credit.

Its shares were scheduled to begin trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong on Nov 5. But just two days before that, the Shanghai stock exchange suspended the IPO on the tech-focused Star Market, prompting the company to also freeze its listing plans in the special administrative region.

There is speculation that the suspension is a move to “teach” Jack Ma a lesson for a thoughtless speech he made at The Bund Summit 2020 last month.

At the event, in front of a list of senior officials and financial leaders, Ma reportedly criticised the finance industry of hampering innovation in the name of risk control while calling on the regulators to ease restrictions.

He doubted if the Basel Accords banking regulations, which emphasised risk control instead of development, fit the country’s economy.

In his 21-minute speech, Ma also criticised the banking sector of its “pawnshop mentality” which required borrowers to secure loans by mortgage and with a guarantor.

On Nov 2, Xinhua, the country’s official news agency, ran an article with the title of an old maxim that advised the people to not speak casually, to not do things as they wish and stick to one’s conscience and principle.

It was a story-telling article based on the three moral values. But the tricky part is, the piece comes with a picture of a horse walking in the sky of clouds.

Readers have linked it to Ma (horse) Yun (cloud), Jack Ma’s Chinese name.

Coincidentally, the billionaire and two other senior executives of Ant Group were summoned to a meeting by the regulators the next day, followed by the suspension announcement.

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