Alibaba Group Holding Ltd ushered in a second day of frantic sales among China’s largest tech companies, fueled by fears that antitrust control will spread beyond Jack Ma’s internet empire and engulf the country’s most powerful corporations.
Alibaba and its three biggest rivals – Tencent Holdings Ltd., grocery giant Meituan, and JD.com Inc. – have raised nearly $ 200 billion in two sessions since Thursday when regulators uncovered an investigation into suspected monopoly practices at Mas Signature Company. Lost dollars. That marked the formal start of the Communist Party’s raid not only against Alibaba, but possibly also against the broader and increasingly influential tech sphere.
“It is very difficult to predict the outcome of the Chinese government’s ongoing investigation into Alibaba and other major consumer Internet platforms,” Baird analyst Colin Sebastian wrote in a note. He lowered his price target on US-listed shares of Alibaba from $ 325 to $ 285, citing “uncertainty over government oversight and the potential for direct regulatory action in the coming year.”
The company’s American depositary receipts fell 1.7% in pre-trading hours, adding to the 13% decline seen in the previous session, while JD.com lost 1.6%. The trading day in Hong Kong was fierce: Alibaba fell 8% on Monday and lost $ 270 billion in value since its high in October. Tencent and Meituan both fell more than 6%. Alibaba rival JD.com Inc. lost around 2%.
On Sunday, China’s central bank ordered Ma’s other online titans – Ant Group Co. – to return to its roots as a payment service and revamp related businesses from insurance to money management, sparking discussion of a possible split.
Once hailed as the standard bearer of China’s economic and technological advancement, Alibaba and its compatriots are now increasingly under pressure from regulators worried about how quickly they are gaining influence and influence over the daily lives of hundreds in sensitive areas like media and education of millions. That concern crystallized in November when regulators torpedoed Ant’s $ 35 billion initial public offering before unveiling draft rules laying down extensive powers to combat anti-competitive practices in sectors from e-commerce to social media.
“The Chinese government is putting more pressure on the technology companies or wants more control over the technology companies,” said Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital Ltd., on the phone. “Companies like Alibaba, Tencent or Meituan are still under great pressure to sell. These companies are growing at a pace that Beijing believes is too fast and are too large. “
It is unclear what concessions regulators could attempt to wrest from Alibaba. Under the existing antitrust law – which is now being revised to include the internet industry for the first time – Beijing can pay a fine of up to 10% of its sales for violations. In the case of Alibaba, that could mean a levy of up to $ 7.8 billion.
China’s e-commerce leader on Monday increased a planned share buyback program by $ 4 billion to $ 10 billion with a term of two years through the end of 2022. However, the buyback program has been overwhelmed by fears that the steps taken against Ant are only the tip of the iceberg. While the central bank was on the verge of calling for a dissolution, the financial services giant must now come up with concrete measures and a timetable for overhauling its business.
The state administration for market regulation dispatched officials to Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou last Thursday, and the on-site investigation was completed that day, according to local news reports. The People’s Daily – the mouthpiece of the Communist Party – posted a comment over the weekend warning Alibaba’s colleagues not to use Alibaba’s antitrust investigation as an opportunity to raise their own awareness of fair competition.
Ma, the flamboyant co-founder of Alibaba and Ant, has almost disappeared from the public eye since Ant’s IPO last month. In early December, the man most likely identified with the meteoric rise of China Inc. was advised by the government to stay in the country, said a person familiar with the matter.
Ma is not on the verge of personal doom, said those familiar with the situation. His very public reprimand is instead a warning that Beijing has lost patience with the overwhelming power of its technology moguls, who are increasingly perceived as a threat to the political and financial stability that President Xi Jinping values most.
Investors remain divided over how far Beijing will pursue Alibaba and its compatriots as Beijing prepares for the introduction of the new antimonopoly regime. The country’s leaders have said little about how tough they want to go or why they have chosen to act now.
Some analysts predict a crackdown will come, but a targeted one. They point to wording in the regulations suggesting a heavy focus on online trading, from enforced exclusivity agreements with traders known as “Pick One of Two” to algorithmic pricing that favors new users. The regulations explicitly warn against predatory pricing – selling below cost – to weed out rivals.
“With this latest investigation coming at a time when China is ready to crack down on monopoly practices, we think SAMR would like to use BABA’s case as a precedent to send a message to the rest of the industry that the agency is determined this time around is to do so to address the pricing problem, Nomura analysts wrote in a note on Monday.