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China halts $37bn Ant Group IPO, citing ‘major issues’

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Ant Group’s $37bn public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong has been suspended by Chinese regulators, one day after officials summoned Jack Ma and other Ant executives for an interview.

China’s largest financial technology company was set to list on Thursday in both cities in a record-breaking IPO.

The Shanghai stock exchange said in a statement that Mr Ma, Ant’s founder, had been called in for “supervisory interviews” and said there had been “other major issues”, including changes in “the financial technology regulatory environment”.

“This material event may cause your company to fail to meet the issuance and listing conditions or information disclosure requirements,” the exchange said. “Our exchange has decided to postpone the listing of your company.” It told Ant and its underwriters to make an announcement about the suspension.

Ant said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that its offshore share offer had also been suspended because the company “may not meet listing qualifications or disclosure requirements due to material matters relating to the regulatory interview of our ultimate controller, our executive chairman and our chief executive officer by the relevant regulators and the recent changes in the fintech regulatory environment.”

“Further details relating to the suspension of the [Hong Kong] listing and the refund of the application monies will be made as soon as possible”, it added.

Shares in Chinese ecommerce group Alibaba, which owns a 33 per cent stake in Ant, were down more than 8 per cent in pre-market trading in New York.

On Monday, Mr Ma, together with Eric Jing and Simon Hu, Ant’s chief executive and chairman, were called in by the People’s Bank of China, as well as China’s banking, securities and foreign exchange regulators. Subsequently, Ant said it would “implement the meeting opinions in depth”.

The meeting came after Mr Ma criticised China’s state-owned banks at a financial summit in Shanghai at the end of October. Mr Ma suggested the big banks had a “pawnshop mentality” and that Ant was playing an important role in extending credit to innovative but collateral-poor companies and individuals.

At the same summit, however, Wang Qishan, China’s vice-president, emphasised the importance of financial stability. “There should be a fine balance between encouraging financial innovation, invigorating the market, opening up the financial sector and building regulatory capacity,” he said. “Safety always comes first.”

Before announcing the timing of the IPO, Ant executives met with PBoC officials this summer to seek their blessing, according to two senior group executives. Despite receiving assurances, there have long been voices sceptical of Ant within the PBoC and China’s banking and insurance regulator, which views itself as the champion of the country’s biggest lenders.

“I’ve never seen an IPO suspended at this stage” said a director at one Shanghai-based brokerage, who described the decision to suspend Ant’s dual listing as a “very last minute thing”.

“It’s in no one’s interest to cancel the allocations at this stage,” the director added, “but I don’t think there’s any precedent for this type of situation.”

In its prospectus, Ant said it faced regulatory risks in China and that it would have to establish a central bank-approved holding company in accordance with State Council regulations issued in September. Draft regulations suggest Ant will have to cap loans at either Rmb300,000 ($44,843) or one-third of a borrower’s annual pay — whichever is lower.

Oliver Rui, a finance professor at China Europe International Business School, noted that Ant could previously leverage Rmb3bn in capital into Rmb300bn in loans. But under the new guidelines, Ant will need to keep at least 30 per cent of its capital on its balance sheet. “Their future profit will not be as good as it is now,” said Prof Rui.



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Soho House owner files for New York flotation

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The owner of Soho House, the private members’ club, has filed for an initial public offering, as the company seeks to tap into investors’ growing interest in leisure stocks.

Membership Collective Group, which owns 28 Soho Houses worldwide among other properties and a retail brand, said on Monday that it plans to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “MCG”.

The company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it intends to raise $100m, a figure that is often used as a place holder for calculating registration fees. It has yet to determine the number of shares it will offer or a price range for those shares.

A rebound in travel and dining demand heading into summer, bolstered by vaccinations against Covid-19, has stoked speculation that MCG will target a valuation greater than the $2bn marker set in a $100m funding round last year.

The hospitality group, backed by US billionaire Ron Burkle, said its membership numbers held steady through the pandemic. It retained 92 per cent of Soho House members in the 2020 financial year and received more than 30,000 applications for its membership brands, according to the S-1 filing.

Revenues in the first quarter of this year totalled $72m, down from $142m in the same period a year earlier. It also reported a net loss of $93m, compared with a $45m loss in 2020.



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South Korean video game group behind hit ‘PUBG’ aims for $5bn IPO

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The company behind global hit game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds plans to raise up to Won5.6tn ($5bn) in an initial public offering that is expected to be South Korea’s largest ever.

Krafton said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday that it will sell more than 10m shares at Won458,000-Won557,000 each, with the top end of that range giving it a market capitalisation of Won28tn. The IPO price will be set on July 9 ahead of the company’s listing in Seoul on July 22.

The much-anticipated listing is likely to top that of Coupang, the leading South Korean ecommerce company that raised $4.6bn in New York in March.

Krafton, formerly known as Bluehole, was founded by Chang Byung-gyu in 2007. PUBG, a so-called battle royale game in which players fight to the death on a remote island, was released in 2017 and accounts for the bulk of Krafton’s revenues. The game has sold more than 75m copies across PC and consoles, while its mobile version has been downloaded more than 1bn times. Krafton’s operating profit more than doubled to Won774bn last year as sales jumped more than 50 per cent to Won1.67tn.

However, the company cited uncertainty in overseas expansion and domestic regulation as investment risks.

“Despite our successful experience in entering overseas markets, our past experience does not guarantee our future success given the different language, culture, custom and legal, regulatory environment,” Krafton said in its filing.

South Korea is on track for a record year for IPOs on huge retail investor interest. The benchmark Kospi index is trading near all-time highs, buoyed by ultra-low interest rates and the country’s strong economic recovery from Covid-19. Investment bankers have predicted that proceeds from IPOs will more than quintuple to at least Won25tn in 2021.

Other IPOs in the pipeline include LG Energy Solution, the world’s largest electric vehicle battery maker, which is expected to raise Won10tn-Won15tn in September. Hyundai Heavy Industries, a shipbuilder, is likely to raise $1bn-$1.5bn in August. Smaller deals include the IPOs of Kakao Pay and Kakao Bank, units of the country’s dominant messenger service provider.

“The Krafton IPO will be popular among investors, given investors’ growing interest in new growth areas such as EV batteries, games and online businesses,” said an investment banker close to the deal. “But the company is heavily reliant on just one game and it is uncertain how long the game’s popularity will last.”

Some analysts have raised concerns about Krafton’s high valuation based on its IPO pricing.

“Krafton’s valuation seems stretched, considering that its market cap will surpass NCSoft’s, although NCSoft is making more money than Krafton,” said a local analyst referring to one of the company’s competitors.

Krafton plans to use the IPO proceeds to develop new games, acquire other developers, enter markets including India and the Middle East and invest in technologies such as artificial intelligence.

After the IPO, Chang will hold a 14 per cent stake, followed by Chinese internet group Tencent with 13.2 per cent, according to company filings.

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Made.com valued at £775m in London IPO

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Shares in Made.com fell 8 per cent despite the company pricing them at the bottom of their range in its initial public offering on Wednesday, giving the online furniture retailer a market capitalisation of £775m.

The listing follows the recent debuts in London of online greeting card group Moonpig and vintners Virgin Wines, which have accelerated sales thanks to stay-at-home consumers buying online during the coronavirus pandemic. Both those groups’ shares remain well ahead of their IPO prices.

Deliveroo’s £7.5bn IPO was branded one of the worst In London’s history, however, after its shares — already priced at the bottom end of the range — fell as much as 30 per cent in initial dealings. They remain more than a third below their IPO price.

“It’s a bit disappointing,” said one banker not involved in the Made.com IPO, adding that the 200p a share pricing was “some way below the levels that had been talked about”.

Valuations of up to £1bn had been mooted in the run-up to the listing.

“It’s got a large addressable market and a lot of share to go for, but historically it has wrestled with achieving profitability and scale in the UK market and it has gone ahead and pushed into international markets despite that,” the banker added.

Made.com sold 50m new shares in the IPO, raising £100m, while existing investors including co-founder Ning Li and Brent Hoberman sold 46.9m shares. A further 14.5m shares could be made available as part of the overallotment option. If exercised, that would increase the number of shares to 111.5m and 29 per cent of the issued share capital.

The shares traded conditionally in London on Wednesday, while full dealings will begin on Monday.

The homewares group aims to quadruple annual sales to £1.2bn by the end of 2025. The company has said it plans to invest proceeds from the IPO in marketing and supply chain improvements aimed at reducing the time between customer orders being placed and goods being delivered.

“The IPO is an exciting milestone for Made,” said chief executive Philippe Chainieux. “A listing in London, where the business was founded, will enable us to accelerate our growth.”

Made.com generated £315m in sales last year. The group, founded by entrepreneurs Ning and Hoberman in 2010, sells to about 1.2m active customers in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands and plans to expand beyond Europe.

After admission, growth-focused investors Level Equity and Partech will be the largest investors in the group, holding 14 and 11 per cent respectively, followed by companies linked to Ning with 8.8 per cent.

Fund management groups Majedie, Axa and NFU Mutual will also be top-10 shareholders, while a vehicle controlled by Hoberman will own 5.5 per cent.

The float is the latest in an increasingly active IPO scene for so-called digitally native businesses.

Victoria Plumbing is due to float on London’s junior market early next week, with pricing details expected on Thursday, while shares in German online fashion retailer About You began trading in Frankfurt on Wednesday and Berlin-based online optician Mister Spex announced its intention to float on Monday.



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