Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is “lying low right now” after the Alibaba and Ant Group founder had a whirlwind year that led to a pulled multi-billion-dollar IPO and a heavier regulatory crackdown.
Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai told CNBC Tuesday that Ma is “fine” and “doing very very well.” Tsai said he talks to him every day and said Ma has taken up painting.
Tsai did say it was important to separate what is going on with Ma and what’s happening with Alibaba at the moment. The executive also pushed back on the notion that Ma has “an enormous amount of power,” given the fact that the billionaire left Alibaba in 2019.
Ma’s Ant Group was once lauded as a disruptor in the booming fintech industry, and the company enjoyed massive growth thanks to little regulatory oversight in China.
The fintech company was poised to launch a $35 billion initial public offering in the fall of 2020 until Ma publicly criticized the nation’s lending methods and financial system at a conference. Chinese authorities stepped in and pulled the IPO, and reports later surfaced that Chinese President Xi Jinping personally instructed authorities to look into Ant following Ma’s comments.
Ant’s pulled IPO coincided with China’s new anticompetitive rules to rein in its homegrown tech companies. China also fined Alibaba $2.8 billion in April over concerns that it was abusing its dominant position in the online market.
The company said it “accepts the penalty with sincerity.”
Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, Charlie Munger, once called Al Gore an “idiot” and “not very smart.” The former US vice-president’s investment firm bought the same two stocks that Buffett and Munger added to their portfolios last quarter.
Generation Investment Management, which Gore cofounded and chairs, boosted its stake in Alibaba by 94% to almost 3 million shares in the three months to March 31, regulatory filings show.
Daily Journal, a newspaper publisher that boasts Munger as its chairman and stock picker, established a stake in the Chinese e-commerce group last quarter as well. Alibaba was its only new position in the period.
Munger disparaged Gore’s intelligence at Daily Journal’s annual meeting in 2017, according to GuruFocus. He wanted to underscore how surprising it was that Gore had made hundreds of millions of dollars from investing.
Gore, who starred in an “An Inconvenient Truth” and won a Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of the climate crisis, simply refused to invest in carbon-intensive companies, and partnered with a skilled value investor named David Blood. The upshot was that Generation invested in software and service companies such as Microsoft and delivered stellar returns, Munger said.
Generation’s long-term, sustainable investing approach has resulted in it owning billion-dollar stakes in Google-parent Alphabet, Cisco, Equifax, Charles Schwab, and Baxter International.
Fidelity’s implied valuation of Ant Group fell to $144 billion from $295 billion, according to the filing. Fidelity first invested in Ant Group in June 2018 at a valuation of $150 billion. The implied valuation represents a massive drop from last year’s expected IPO valuation of more than $310 billion.
Ant Group owns Alipay, a mobile payments app that handled $17 trillion worth of payment transactions last year and has seen explosive growth as it combines a number of financial offerings into a single app.
“Alibaba accepts the penalty with sincerity,” the company said in a statement regarding the record fine. Alibaba owns about a third of Ant Group.
A Reuters report from last month suggested that Jack Ma is in talks give up his stake in Ant Group, which could help lessen regulatory scrutiny by the Chinese government. But an Ant Group spokesperson issued a statement to the outlet, saying Ma’s exit “has never been the subject of discussions with anyone.”
Ant had ballooned into an independent force alongside the state-controlled Chinese bank system, and the halted listing came just after Ma brazenly and publicly criticized the nation’s banking rules. Simply put, he spoke out against the country’s lack of a traditional financial system and the large role that the Party plays in lending money, as Nikkei Asia reported.
But the government’s takedown of Ma may be indicative of a larger zeroing-in on billionaires in the country as an existing wealth gap grows wider, a gap that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Disdain for the Communist country’s affluent population has grown, as the New York Times reported, and the government is leaning into that anti-rich sentiment as it’s broken down the power constructs that Ma has built in the country.
A widening wealth gap in China
Communist China once embraced a more capitalist-friendly free market in the 1980s, and when it did, some citizens saw their wealth skyrocket, as Bloomberg reported in December. Solidified social classes emerged, making it easier for the wealthy to maintain and grow their fortunes – but also more difficult for lower-income people to get richer.
Today’s rising housing costs in China’s cities and a squeezed white-collar job market with lower pay presents problems for the country’s young and educated in securing financial stability, per the NYT report. Those woes have stirred an animosity of the wealthy in China – as Bloomberg reported, the children who were born into money now find themselves under the scornful eye of the nation’s leader.
Besides the US, China has the most billionaires out of every country in the world – 626 to be exact, according to Forbes. Beijing itself has more billionaires than any city in the world. But about 600 million of its 1.4 billion-strong population earn $150 a month or less, as the NYT notes.
Such economic disparities have caused political problems for the Chinese Communist Party, which strives to preserve an evenly distributed wealth system. And Ma, with his $50 billion in net worth, is among its targets.
With a widening wealth gap, and billionaires like Jack Ma exhibiting that their companies can grow into the powerhouses that they are, China is hell-bent on preventing “the disorderly expansion of capital,” as Chinese leadership said in December.
China is tightening its grip on its economy
China is singling out companies and figures across industries in its quest to rein in the economy, from Swedish retailer H&M to homegrown tech giants, which have largely enjoyed a lack of regulatory constraints.
China was hoping other tech giants would take it as a warning, and it looks like they have. About three dozen Chinese tech companies, including TikTok owner Bytedance, JD.com, and the Twitter-like Weibo, have vowed to adhere to China’s new anti-competitive laws, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. They are also pledging to keep the party’s values at the forefront of their minds in hopes of escaping Ma’s fate.
The Ma-China debacle signals that turbulent times may lie ahead for innovation in China, as the Communist Party and its leaders demand that the country’s business community put patriotism above all else.
The government on Saturday said Alibaba had used anti-competitive practices in its online retail market.
The fine was equal to about 4% of Alibaba’s annual sales in China, according to Xinhua News, a quasi-state media outlet. Local news reports said the company would be required for three years to complete “self-inspection” reports that it would then submit to the watchdog.
“Alibaba accepts the penalty with sincerity and will ensure its compliance with determination,” the company said Saturday in a press release.
It added: “To serve its responsibility to society, Alibaba will operate in accordance with the law with utmost diligence, continue to strengthen its compliance systems and build on growth through innovation.”
The company also published an open letter to customers, saying it had “fully cooperated” with the investigation.
“Alibaba would not have achieved our growth without sound government regulation and service, and the critical oversight, tolerance and support from all of our constituencies have been crucial to our development,” the company said.
The 18 billion yuan fine was a record for China, surpassing the $975 million fine issued to Qualcomm in 2015, as Reuters reported at the time.
Alibaba will hold a conference call on Monday to discuss the penalty.
Cathie Wood, the CEO of Ark Invest, said she sees growth potential in “disruptive innovation platforms” in China and that they are competing with similar ventures in the US now. Chinese tech stocks have been trending downwards recently as they face legal and regulatory pressure.
Speaking at a webinar in collaboration with Li Yimei, chief executive of China Asset Management this month, she discussed China’s commitment to innovation and said the country’s platforms have made huge progress in area such as DNA sequencing, energy storage, artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotics, especially relating to productivity, “which is good for the entire economy,” IgnitesAsia quoted Wood as saying.
Wood, through her ARK Invest exchange-traded fund, was one of the top performing asset managers of 2020, thanks in large part to her bets on disruptive technology.
She said many Chinese platforms are now close competitors to those in the US, after having caught up in recent years. “Competition in technology is a really good thing, in terms of moving the technology forward faster than otherwise would have been the case,” she said.
She said she was impressed with the government’s collaboration with the private sector, as she believes this will further the development of microchips and artificial intelligence.
Wood also said it reflected the government’s commitment to electric vehicles “I’m very impressed that China allows Tesla into the country without a local manufacturer. It is so determined to have electric vehicles proliferate throughout China,” she said.
Chinese tech shares have tumbled recently. The Hang Seng Tech index, which contains a number of big Chinese tech names such as Alibaba, Tencent, and FoxConn, is one of the worst performers from among the major indices this year, with a loss of almost 3%, versus a 1.5% gain in the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100.
Wood’s Ark Invest published a note this week saying “Chinese technology companies are caught in political crosscurrents”, referring to the developments that have been causing stocks to crash. Ark Invest believes they will only cause “short term turmoil” and said “policies might accelerate or hinder the pace of innovation for a time, but we believe self-preservation probably will bring policymakers back to both tables.”
Crypto whiz kid Justin Sun has shot to fame in recent years for postponing a $4.6 million charity lunch with Warren Buffett, investing $10 million in GameStop during the buying frenzy, and losing out on a $69 million NFT during a Christie’s auction.
Sun is the boss of Tron and BitTorrent, the 28th and 63rd biggest cryptocurrencies with a combined market capitalization of more than $5 billion.
Here are eight things to know about the 30-year-old tech entrepreneur:
A protégé of Alibaba founder Jack Ma
Justin Sun is a protégé of Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma. Sun’s oldest photo on Instagram shows him receiving a certificate from Ma. “Inspired by the best to shape the future for the better,” the caption reads.
Sun was the youngest member of the inaugural class at Hupan University, a Chinese business school founded by Ma in 2015, according to the South China Morning Post. Ma recruited 30 students who he believed could revolutionize the Chinese business world. Sun wrote his thesis on the blockchain industry, titling it “The Birth of a Decentralized Internet,” SCMP said. He graduated from Hupan in 2018.
Sun joined Ripple Labs as a chief representative and adviser in Greater China at the end of 2013, according to his LinkedIn page. He worked at the cryptocurrency startup — which has received backing from Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and other blue-chip investors — for just over two years. Sun also founded Callme or Peiwo, China’s largest voice live-streaming app, in 2013.
In July 2017, Sun founded the Tron Foundation, a blockchain company with its own cryptocurrency that is “dedicated to building the infrastructure for a truly decentralized Internet,” his LinkedIn page states. Less than a year later, Tron acquired BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, for around $126 million, according to TechCrunch. Sun currently serves as CEO of Peiwo, Tron, and BitTorrent, now known as Rainberry.
Sun planned to use his meal with Buffett to convert the notorious skeptic of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies into a true believer. Buffett has said Bitcoin has “no unique value” and will ultimately become worthless, and derided it as a “delusion” and “rat poison squared.”
Sun executed a full-court press on Buffett during their dinner in January 2020. He invited eToro founder and CEO Yoni Assia, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, and other crypto advocates to dine with them. He also gave Buffett a smartphone loaded with bitcoin and Tron, although Buffett later said he doesn’t own any cryptocurrencies.
A controversial figure
After Sun announced he was rescheduling his lunch with Buffett, Chinese news outlet Caixin reported he was being held in China over accusations of illegal fundraising, gambling, money laundering, and pornography activities, citing a report by the 21st Century Business Herald.
Sun dismissed the allegations on Weibo and said he was being treated for kidney stones. “The illegal network fundraising was not true,” he wrote in Mandarin, adding that Tron “actively cooperated” with authorities to comply with regulatory requirements. He added that Tron complied with laws and regulations in Singapore, where it’s located, and the money-laundering allegation was “not true.”
A meme-stock fan
Sun invested $10 million in GameStop and $1 million in each of AMC and the iShares Silver Trust during the meme-stock frenzy in January 2021. He told Bloomberg that the Wall Street Bets movement represented a “paradigm shift” in finance, and suggested memes are the new fundamentals for the next generation of investors.
A NFT proponent
Sun was the runner up in the record-breaking Christie’s auction of a $69 million non-fungible token (NFT) in March 2021. He tried to bid $70 million for the digital artwork after he was outbid with 20 seconds to go, but his offer wasn’t received by Christie’s systems.
For three months, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has been keeping out of the public eye as China has cracked down on his businesses.
His sole public appearance was a 50-second video appearance at the end of January, during which he made brief remarks to rural teachers from across China.
But according to a Bloomberg report, the Alibaba and Ant Group founder was spotted playing golf at the Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan, China, in recent weeks. The upscale resort includes a 27-hole golf course, a clubhouse, and a restaurant.
Such clubs aren’t hard to find in Hainan, the island province in southern China that’s known as “the Hawaii of China” thanks to its tropical climate, luxurious beach resorts, and golf courses.
Here’s what it’s like to vacation in Hainan.
Hainan is China’s smallest and southernmost province, made up of more than 200 islands.
The main island is the 12,700-square-mile Hainan Island, which is home to about 9 million people and is a major tourist destination.
The Alibaba and Ant Group founder has reportedly been “lying low” in recent months as Chinese regulators cracked down on his businesses. Speculation on his whereabouts started when Ma failed to appear on the finale of the African talent show he created in November. In October, Ma had publicly criticized China’s banking rules.
Representatives for Ma’s companies did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
The Sun Valley Golf Resort where Ma was reportedly seen includes a clubhouse, a restaurant and club bar, and a sauna.
The 27-hole course was designed by JMP Golf Design Group, a company that has designed high-end courses all over the world in countries including the US, France, Japan, Malaysia, and Mexico.
The club overlooks Yalong Bay near Sanya, a city on Hainan’s southern coast.
Sanya, Hainan’s most popular tourist destination, boasts more than 25 miles of coastline, a lively city center, and plenty of luxury hotels including a St. Regis, a Ritz-Carlton, a Rosewood, and an Edition hotel.
The Sun Valley Golf Resort where Ma was spotted is far from the only place to golf on Hainan. The island is home to multiple golf courses, and the temperate climate means it’s possible to play year-round.
Ma’s live-streamed video sent Alibaba’s Hong Kong shares up by as much as 8.5%. In the video, he can be seen addressing 100 rural teachers as part of a ceremony that recognizes exceptional educators in impoverished areas.
“Recently, my colleagues and I have been studying and thinking. We made a firmer resolution to devote ourselves to education philanthropy,” Ma said in the clip, according to Bloomberg. “Working hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen.”
The billionaire, who is a former English teacher, seemed to embrace themes promoted by China’s Communist Party, Bloomberg said. He spoke about shrinking income disparities through a return of younger talent to rural areas.
A spokesperson for the Jack Ma Foundation told Insider Ma had participated in the event on January 20 and confirmed the authenticity of the video clip.
Ma had seemingly disappeared from public view about two months ago after he publicly snubbed China’s regulatory system, saying the nation’s rules do not help foster innovation. He even criticized regulatory decisions to enforce a set of international banking rules as an “old man’s club.”
Soon after, China enacted new rules that clamped down on online financial lending, directly impact the lending business of Ma’s Ant Group. Regulators ordered Ant to overhaul its business and return to its origins as a payment service after officials accused the company of “turning a blind eye” to requirements.