Fidelity cuts Ant Group’s valuation in half to $144 billion after regulatory crackdown in China

Jack Ma Alibaba Founder China
Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group.

  • Fidelity cut Ant Group’s implied valuation to $144 billion from $300 billion, according to regulatory filings.
  • The decline in valuation comes after China imposed a regulatory crackdown on the fintech giant.
  • Fidelity initially invested in Ant Group in June 2018 at a $150 billion valuation.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

China’s regulatory crackdown of Ant Group in recent months has led Fidelity to cut its implied valuation of the fintech giant in half, according to regulatory filings first seen by The Wall Street Journal.

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.

Fidelity isn’t the only US money manager that invested in Ant Group prior to its IPO. BlackRock and T. Rowe Price invested between $200 million and $500 million in Ant Group as well.

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.

But China pulled the public debut of Ant Group days before its expected IPO in November following critical comments of international financial regulations from billionaire founder Jack Ma.

Since then, Ant Group has been subject to increased regulatory scrutiny as it competes against legacy financial institutions that are subject to higher capital requirements. Ant Group said it would apply to become a financial holding company overseen by the People’s Bank of China to help ease regulatory pressures.

The regulatory scrutiny of Ant Group has also spread to Jack Ma’s Alibaba, which was hit with a record $2.8 billion fine last month in an anti-monopoly probe.

“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.”

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Billionaire Jack Ma was one of China’s biggest success stories. The government turning on him speaks to an animosity against billionaires in the Communist country.

Jack Ma
  • China has cracked down on Jack Ma and his companies Ant Group and Alibaba recently.
  • The government may be targeting him, but China is also focused on reining in billionaires at large.
  • A wealth gap has widened, posing issues for the communist nation, which strives for distributed wealth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Jack Ma’s Ant Group IPO was yanked by Chinese regulators last fall, it was easy to view it as merely a sign of China’s firm hand.

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.

News later surfaced that Chinese President Xi Jinping personally instructed authorities to look into Ant. Now, Ant – which was once praised as a fintech disruptor on the global stage – will likely, eventually, be majorly run by the state.

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.

alibaba jack ma NYSE
Alibaba went public on the NYSE in 2014.

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.

The government rolled out a set of new anti-competitive behavior rules for internet companies like Alibaba in November. It included guidelines to prevent companies from sharing sensitive user data and from joining together to stomp out smaller competitors.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said shortly after that he welcomed the new rules. And last week, Chinese authorities fined Alibaba what equals $2.8 billion USD over concerns that it was abusing its dominant market position.

Read more: China’s antitrust probe into Alibaba could be an opportunity for other cloud players – including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google – to swoop in

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.

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Alibaba Group hit with record $2.8 billion fine amid increased government scrutiny of billionaire Jack Ma’s tech empire

Jack Ma Alibaba Founder China
Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group.

  • Alibaba Group has been hit with a record $2.8 billion fine in China.
  • Billionaire founder Jack Ma’s tech empire has come under increased scrutiny from regulators.
  • “Alibaba accepts the penalty with sincerity,” the company said in a statement.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China on Saturday fined Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group a record $2.8 billion for abusing its leading market position.

Alibaba Group said in a statement that the penalty came from the State Administration for Market Regulation, which had been investigating it since December.

The fine was yet another sign that Chinese regulators have taken a more critical stance towards the tech empire built by Ma, one of the country’s wealthiest moguls.

Speaking at a conference last fall, Ma made negative comments about international financial regulations. Chinese President Xi Jinping then reportedly halted a planned $37 billion initial public offering by Ant Group, another Ma company.

After the clash, Ma disappeared from public view for months. It was later reported by The Financial Times that he’d spent some of that time meeting with regulators.

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.

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Justin Sun postponed a $4.6 million lunch with Warren Buffett, plowed $10 million into GameStop stock, and lost out on a $69 million NFT. Here’s a look at the crypto whiz kid.

Justin Sun Warren Buffett
  • Crypto whiz kid Justin Sun postponed a $4.6 million charity lunch with Warren Buffett.
  • The Tron boss invested $10 million in GameStop and lost out on a $69 million NFT.
  • Here are eight things to know about the 30-year-old tech entrepreneur.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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

JustinSun5
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.

An Ivy League graduate

university of pennsylvania

Sun graduated from Peking University with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2011, according to his LinkedIn page. Peking is China’s second-best university, according to Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings. Two years later, Sun earned a master’s degree in political economy from the University of Pennsylvania, one of eight prestigious US colleges that make up the Ivy League.

 

An entrepreneur and dealmaker

BitTorrent Data Belongs To You Billboard

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.

 

A millennial influencer

twitter on phone

Sun has a powerful presence on social media with more than 2.2 million Twitter followers. He’s also posted pictures of himself posing with celebrities such as Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Forbes included Sun in its 30 under 30 Asia list in 2017, and in its 30 under 30 China list from 2015 to 2017, Sun wrote on his LinkedIn page. 

A crypto advocate

FILE PHOTO: Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Etherum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
FILE PHOTO: Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on motherboard in this illustration picture

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

China Flag

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

gamestop line

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

5,000 everydays artwork by Beeple, which was sold at Christies auction house for $69 million
“Everydays: The First 5000 Days” by Beeple, a digital artwork sold at Christie’s auction house for $69 million.

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.

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Ant Group CEO Simon Hu has resigned from the Chinese fintech giant

Ant Group CEO Simon Hu
Ant Group CEO Simon Hu.

Ant Group CEO Simon Hu has resigned for personal reasons.

Bloomberg first reported the news on Friday. The company confirmed Hu’s resignation in a statement to Insider.

“The Ant Group Board of Directors has accepted Mr. Simon Hu’s resignation request, due to personal reasons,” a representative said. “We are thankful to Simon for the efforts he made at our company.”

Ant Group is an affiliate fintech company of the Chinese retail behemoth Alibaba. It operates the Alipay digital payments network and was founded by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Chairman Eric Jing will become CEO effective immediately, a source with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg.

Alibaba fell by 2.5% in premarket trading on Friday.

Hu became Ant’s CEO in December 2019 after a year working as the group’s president.

Before that, he spent four years as the CEO of Alibaba Cloud Computing. He also founded AliFinance.

Hu’s resignation comes amid increasing scrutiny of Ant by Chinese regulators.

In November, Ant’s initial public offering, set to be the biggest ever, was suspended in Shanghai and Hong Kong following a meeting between Ma and Chinese regulators.

And in late December, China’s central bank and three financial watchdogs said they would urge Ant to implement stricter financial regulations for its banking services.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that the group planned to restructure itself as a financial holding company overseen by China’s central bank. This would subject it to stricter regulations.

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People are lining up in droves after rumors spread that billionaire Jack Ma is giving out cash to Chinese seniors

jack me alibaba ant group
Jack Ma in China in 2019.

  • Online rumors in China are claiming that Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma is giving away money.
  • The gifts are said to be made in honor of Lunar New Year, but authorities warn it may be a scam.
  • Ma, through his companies, has previously given millions in LNY gifts to customers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Chinese seniors are lining up at banks across the country after rumors swirled online that reclusive billionaire Jack Ma was giving away pieces of his fortune, UPI reported,

Many began lining up at banks across Fuzhou, in the Jiangxi Province, after a WeChat group claimed that Ma was giving away 200 Chinese yuan – the equivalent of $30 – to anyone 60 or older who could show proof of age. 

The gift was said to be in honor of Lunar New Year, which began on February 11 and is observed until February 17. During that time, the country generally shuts down, and gifts of money are exchanged in special red envelopes meant to bring prosperity in the new year. 

But authorities warned seniors not to trust rumors about a potential gift, and the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau issued an emergency notice warning citizens of a possible scam.

Ma has in the past offered special deals and promotions during Lunar New Year, largely through Alibaba and its subsidiary companies. In 2014, Ma’s Alibaba issued 99,999 online coupons to users via WeChat, worth around 990,000 yuan, or $153,000. In 2016, Alipay, the mobile payment branch of Alibaba, gave away US$120 million in a TV promotion. And in 2018, Alibaba offered a “digital red envelope” AR game, paying out around US$820 million to customers. 

Ma, the founder of Alibaba and Ant Group, has scarcely been seen in public over the past three months, though he was reportedly spotted golfing at a luxury golf resort on the island province of Hainan last week. 

Ma disappeared from public life at the end of last year after Chinese authorities cracked down on his business empire in November and launched an anti-trust investigation into Alibaba in December.

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An inside look at Hainan, ‘the Hawaii of China,’ where Jack Ma was reportedly spotted golfing at a 5-star resort in recent weeks

sun valley golf resort hainan
The Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan.

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.

hainan china

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.

More than 83 million tourists visited Hainan in 2019, according to China Daily.

Hainan has been nicknamed the “Hawaii of China” because of its tropical climate, sandy beaches, and upscale hotels and golf clubs.

hainan china
A view of the city of Sanya in Hainan, China.

In recent years, the province has been trying to attract new residents and foreign investments.

In 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping designated Hainan as China’s largest free-trade zone and introduced new subsidized housing and fast-track work visas to attract new residents.

The government announced in 2018 that Americans could visit Hainan for up to 30 days without a visa.

Jack Ma, the billionaire Chinese businessman who’s been out of the public eye for three months, has reportedly been spending some time playing golf at one of Hainan’s luxurious resorts.

jack ma ant group alibaba china
Jack Ma.

Bloomberg reported on February 10 that Ma had been spotted playing at Hainan’s Sun Valley Golf Resort in “recent weeks.” Sources said he appeared to be a “golfing novice.” 

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.

He wasn’t seen at all for more than two months until January 20, when he made some brief remarks to rural teachers in a 50-second videoconference call. 

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.

sun valley golf resort hainan
The Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan.

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.

sanya hainan

Sanya is “China’s premier beach community,” according to Lonely Planet.

One of Sanya’s most luxurious hotels is the Mandarin Oriental, where guests can stay in a variety of suites, villas, and pavilions.

mandarin oriental sanya

The hotel is situated on a protected coral bay and has three swimming pools, a swim-up cocktail bar, and a spa.

A night’s stay in March starts at about $360.

Sanya’s beaches can be particularly crowded between November and February.

sanya hainan beach

During this time period, many northern Chinese head down for a tropical vacation in the island province.

Hainan also attracts so many tourists from Russia that many of the signs and restaurant menus are written in Cyrillic in addition to Chinese and English, according to the South China Morning Post.

Sanya’s Phoenix Island, an artificial archipelago with multiple hotels, restaurants, luxury apartment buildings, a conference center, and a marina, has drawn comparisons to Dubai.

phoenix island sanya hainan
Phoenix Island in Sanya.

Phoenix Island is connected to the city by a long bridge that’s only open to guests.

It’s not uncommon to see luxury yachts on the water in Sanya.

yachts sanya hainan

In fact, Sanya’s yachting industry grew in 2020 during the pandemic, with a 28% uptick in new yacht registrations, according to the Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper.

Sanya’s Houhai Beach is popular with snorkelers and surfers.

sanya surfing hainan
Surfers on Houhai Beach in Sanya in December 2019.

The city of Sanya may be Hainan’s tourism mecca, but visitors are also drawn to its laid-back capital city, Haikou, its rural fishing villages, and its less developed West Coast with its tropical rainforests.

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.

hainan golf
A Hainan golf course.

The sport of golf is growing in China, even though Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, once dismissed it as a “sport for millionaires.”

Hainan is one of the few global destinations that’s seen a tourist revival during the pandemic – and the CEOs of luxury brands have taken notice, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

sanya hainan
Customers shop in Sanya in October 2020. O

After a 90% drop-off in tourism in the spring, Hainan saw a resurgence in the last half of 2020 that was driven mainly by domestic travelers, per Reuters. In October, 9.6 million people visited the island — more than the year before. The island has been virtually virus-free for eight months.

Luxury sales in Hainan have been “on fire” recently, John Idol, CEO of fashion holding company Capri Holdings, which owns Michael Kors and Versace, said recently on a conference call with analysts.

Patrice Louvet, the CEO of Ralph Lauren, told Bloomberg: “Hainan is a strategic priority for us. Every business is looking at it.”

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Alibaba jumps 5% after billionaire Jack Ma appeared in a 50-second videoclip after weeks of laying low

Screenshot 2021 01 20 at 09.36.57
  • Alibaba rose 5% after Jack Ma resurfaced in a videoconference on Wednesday after weeks of laying low.
  • The billionaire founder could be seen addressing 100 rural teachers across China.
  • Ma seemed to embrace themes promoted by the ruling Communist Party, according to Bloomberg.
  • Sign up here our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Alibaba shares jumped 5% at market open as founder Jack Ma resurfaced in a 50-second video clip on Wednesday after he was suspected missing for weeks.

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.  

Read more: Goldman Sachs reveals the 8 ‘green energy majors’ that are set to shoot up in value in a sector worth trillions of dollars as the renewables race heats up 

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

Read More: GOLDMAN SACHS: Buy these 25 stocks best-positioned to juice profits in 2021 as stimulus and vaccine progress spur economic growth

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Billionaire Jack Ma appears to have resurfaced in a quick 50-second videoconference clip, according to Chinese-owned media

Jack Ma
In October, Ma publicly criticized China’s banking rules.

Chinese billionaire businessman Jack Ma appeared during a videoconference on Wednesday after weeks of speculation about his whereabouts, according to a 50-second clip released by the Global Times, a Chinese government-owned  English-language newspaper. 

In the video call, Ma, who used to be an English teacher, spoke to 100 rural teachers across China as a part of his Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award ceremony, which recognizes outstanding teachers in impoverished and remote 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 video, according to Bloomberg. “Working hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen.”

A spokesperson for the Jack Ma Foundation told Insider that Ma participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher Initiative event on January 20, but the time and date of the video have not been independently verified.

Questions began swirling about Ma’s whereabouts after the Alibaba and Ant Group founder failed to appear on the finale of the African talent show he created. Yahoo Finance reported on January 4 that Ma hadn’t been seen publicly in more than two months.

China has been cracking down on the tech mogul’s business empire in recent months. 

In late December, Chinese regulators launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba, the country’s biggest e-commerce company, sometimes referred to as “the Amazon of China.” And in November, China introduced regulations that halted what would have been a massive initial public offering for Ant Group, Ma’s fintech company.

In October, the 56-year-old Alibaba founder had publicly criticized China’s financial regulatory system at a conference in Shanghai. The next month, Ma was replaced as a judge on the African talent show he founded, “Africa’s Business Heroes.” An Alibaba representative told Insider that Ma could no longer be on the judging panel, which was filmed in November but has not yet been released, “due to a scheduling conflict.”

Earlier this month, CNBC reporter David Faber said it was unlikely that Ma was “captured” by the Chinese state but that he was likely lying low in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is based. Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019. But in the past, prominent businessmen including retired real-estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and asset manager Xiao Jianhua have disappeared from public life after facing criticism from Chinese regulators, as Insider’s Allana Akhtar reported.

Until recently, Ma was China’s richest man, with a fortune of more than $60 billion. But Ma has lost billions over the past few months as China has tightened the rules for the fintech industry. Ma is now worth $52.9 billion, making him the fourth-richest person in China, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

A representative for Ant Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An Alibaba spokesperson referred Insider to the statement from the Jack Ma Foundation.

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Inside the low-key life of Asia’s new richest man, who’s known as the ‘lone wolf’ and used to be a journalist

Zhong Shanshan Nongfu Spring Company
Zhong Shanshan at a Nongfu Spring product launch conference in February 2015 in Baishan, China.

Zhong Shanshan has had quite a year.

Last January, he was already a billionaire, worth around $7 billion. But in 2020, the Chinese businessman’s wealth soared by tens of billions, making him one of the richest people in the world in a matter of months.

In September, Zhong made headlines for becoming richer than Alibaba founder Jack Ma and therefore the wealthiest person in China. By the end of December, the 66-year-old’s fortune had swelled by another $17 billion, making him the richest person in all of Asia. Zhong’s net worth peaked at $95 billion in early January and now sits at $84.7 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. He trails Warren Buffett by just a few billion.

Zhong is the chairman of two companies: bottled water company Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise. In 2020, Zhong took both companies public and grew his fortune by more than $70 billion.

Zhong’s wealth surpassed Asia’s previous richest man, Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani, who runs one of India’s largest conglomerates. Ambani, who’s worth $74.7 billion, and his family are known for their lavish lifestyles. They live in an outrageous $1 billion skyscraper home and rub shoulders with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Beyoncé, who performed at Ambani’s daughter’s wedding in 2018.

Asia’s new richest man, on the other hand, tends to fly under the radar. Zhong is known as the “Lone Wolf” because he’s not involved in politics and he rarely makes public appearances or speaks to the media, according to Bloomberg. And very little is known about his personal life, with no reports of lavish spending habits. 

Here’s what we know about the lifestyle of Zhong Shanshan, the mysterious billionaire who’s now richer than anyone else in Asia. 

Zhong Shanshan is Asia’s new richest person, with an estimated net worth of $84.7 billion.

Zhong Shanshan Nongfu Spring Company
Zhong Shanshan at a Nongfu Spring product launch conference in February 2015 in Baishan, China.

That makes him the seventh-richest person in the world, right after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and legendary investor Warren Buffett (although he was briefly richer than Buffett), according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. He’s richer than the cofounders of Google.

Zhong is the chairman of two companies: bottled water company Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which makes COVID-19 test kits and is developing a vaccine for the virus. Together, the two companies reported more than $3.6 billion in revenue in 2019. 

In 2020, Zhong took both companies public and made more than $70 billion, according to Bloomberg.

zhong shansan nongfu spring water bottle

Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise — which is in the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine —went public on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. 

And in September, Nongfu Spring’s $1.1 billion initial public offering in Hong Kong made Shanshan China’s third-richest person overnight. His net worth skyrocketed from around $16 billion to more than $50 billion.

Most of Zhong’s wealth comes from his bottled water company, of which he owns an 84% stake, according to Bloomberg. He owns 75% of Beijing Wantai.

In December, Zhong surpassed Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani to become the richest man in Asia.

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Zhong and Ambani.

Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, a conglomerate that spans industries from energy to telecom, was Asia’s richest man for about two years. But as of mid-January 2021, Zhong is now worth $10 billion more than Ambani.

With his $74.7 billion net worth, Ambani remains the richest person in India and the 12th-richest in the world.

Zhong’s lifestyle couldn’t appear to be more different from Ambani’s. Just take a look at where the two billionaires choose to live.

mukesh ambani home antilia skyscraper mumbai

Ambani famously lives in a 27-story skyscraper in Mumbai with his family that has three helicopter pads and underground parking for 160 cars and attracted a frenzy of international media attention when he finished building it in 2010.

Jack Ma, who was previously China’s richest man, has also drawn attention for his exorbitant real-estate purchases like a $23 million estate in upstate New York and a rumored $191 million mansion in Hong Kong.

But Zhong, who is now wealthier than both billionaires, has never splashed out on real estate.

hangzhou china
Hangzhou.

He lives in Hangzhou, a city of about 10 million people in eastern China that’s known as a trading hub as well as for its scenic landscape. The city was home to at least 32 billionaires as of 2016 — including Jack Ma — according to CNN Business.

Zhong lives in an apartment in Hangzhou’s Xihu district, which borders the city’s scenic West Lake, according to Nongfu Spring’s public offering prospectus.

west lake hangzhou china
A view of West Lake in Hangzhou in the summer of 2020.

The district is a leafy residential neighborhood about four miles from the skyscrapers of Hangzhou’s central business district, according to Google Maps. The headquarters of Zhong’s bottled water company, Nongfu Spring, is about a seven-minute drive away, and Jack Ma’s Ant Group headquarters are also nearby. 

Zhong’s pharmaceutical company, Wantai Beijing, is much farther from his home, with headquarters in the Changping District of Beijing.

changping district beijing
A view of the Changping District in Beijing.

Changping is “the high-tech and science base of Beijing,” according to Travel China Guide.

Zhong is known in China as the “Lone Wolf” because he’s not involved in politics or business groups, per Bloomberg.

zhong shanshan

He rarely makes public appearances or speaks to the media, according to Chinese publication The Paper.

“I am a solitary person, and I don’t care what my colleagues are doing or thinking,” Zhong once said, according to the Paper.

Ambani, on the other hand, has been photographed at countless events and is known to rub shoulders with Bollywood stars and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He reportedly spent $100 million on his daughter’s extravagant wedding, where Beyoncé gave a private performance.

Perhaps Zhong’s solitary nature has to do with his humble roots.

zhong shanshan

Before he made his fortune, Zhong dropped out of elementary school and spent some time as a construction worker before working as a newspaper reporter in the 1980s, per Bloomberg.

Zhong joined the Zhejiang Daily in 1983, where he covered agriculture. After about five years, he started to attempt varying business ventures: founding a private newspaper, growing mushrooms, and selling curtains, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

He later founded the pharmaceutical company Yangshengtang Co., Ltd, which is today the holding company of Beijing Wantai. And in 1996, Zhong founded Nongfu Spring and today directly manages the company’s sales, branding, and human resources as executive chairman, according to his corporate biography.

Very little else is known about Zhong’s personal life. Nongfu Spring’s public offering prospectus revealed, however, that several of his family members hold stakes in the bottled water company.

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A Nongfu Spring factory in Baishan, China, in June 2017.

That includes Lu Xiaowei, his wife’s older sister, who owns 1.4% of Nongfu Spring that’s valued at $432 million, according to Bloomberg. Two of his wife’s other siblings own shares worth $428 million each. And Zhong’s sisters, Zhong Xiaoxiao and Zhong Xuanxuan, together own $642 million worth of shares.

Zhong’s son, Zhong Shu Zi, is listed as a non-executive director of the company. The China Daily reports that Zhong has two other children. 

In January 2021, Zhong left the board of his pharmaceutical company Beijing Wantai for “personal reasons,” according to Bloomberg.

Spokespeople for Zhong’s companies did not respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story. 

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