Alibaba's Jack Ma Reappears After Going AWOL for Months

Andrew Cummings
January 22, 2021

Alibaba billionaire co-founder Jack Ma appeared in public for the first time in months on Wednesday morning (Jan 20), causing a surge in the price of its shares.

Meanwhile Ant Group was also recently ordered to shake up its lending and other consumer finance businesses, including the creation of a separate holding company to meet capital requirements.

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, who has become the richest businessman in China with an estimated net worth of $59 billion.

"Jack Ma's reappearance has given investors peace of mind after a lot of rumors, allowing them to pile into the stock which had been a laggard in the market", Steven Leung, sales director at brokerage UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong, told Reuters news agency.

In a video message, Ma said: "Our commitment and our tribute to village teachers remains unchanged although we can't meet face to face".

Ma said he would be devoting more time to educational causes and charity work when he stepped down as chief executive officer in September in 2019.

The business magnate has made his first public appearance during a rural teacher-themed social welfare event via video link. According to reports and speculation, his controversial remarks prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping and market regulators to abruptly halt Ant's initial public offering, which would have been the biggest IPO in history, and sparked the government to open an investigation into Alibaba, the owner of Tmall and a partner of Farfech and Compagnie Financière Richemont, for its alleged monopolistic practices.

Alibaba's Hong Kong-listed shares jumping over 6% on Wednesday, Reuters reported. At the very minimum this proves he's not in prison or banned from appearing in the public, but it could also be a sign that Ma's companies may have reached a deal with the government to settle their antitrust issues.

His disappearance triggered concern, after Ma faced a crackdown on his business empire by Chinese authorities. Alibaba and the government haven't responded to questions about him. I didn't think he'd be in jail, so I hadn't sold any of my Alibaba shares.

Some argue that the recent clampdown on Ma signals Beijing's growing unease with the country's increasingly influential private-sector power brokers. "A path acceptable to all parties may have been identified, but Ant Group still looks likely to be dis-aggregated and regulatory restrictions will nearly surely take a significant bite out of Ant's former valuation".

Meanwhile, Beijing that had launched an anti-monopoly probe against Ant Group and Alibaba Group continues to investigate the companies.

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