Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, made his first public appearance in a video published by Chinese state media. In a 50-second video, he was shown speaking to teachers in rural China as part of a philanthropic event.
The philanthropist has not appeared in public since late October, when he made comments on China’s regulatory system which led to the suspension of a blockbuster USD37 billion IPO for Alibaba’s financial technology affiliate Ant Group. His companies have since been targeted as part of an escalating crackdown on tech by Beijing.
While Ma has stepped down from corporate positions and earnings calls, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant.
Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed shares surged more than 8.5%, helping to erase some of the losses that have piled up since Ant Group’s IPO was pulled, but yet it has done little to resolve the Chinese ecommerce giant’s troubled relationship with regulators which is making some investors hesitate about owning its stock.
According to Leland Miller, CEO of US-based consultancy China Beige Book, what Ma’s actual state is will be completely up to Beijing to reveal.
Also, according to David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors, Florida, which has about USD4 billion in assets, said he held Alibaba last year but sold as the Ant IPO was pulled.
He commented that “When you don’t know what to do in an evolving situation like this you can’t use traditional securities analytics to reach decisions. We are standing aside and watching.”
Uncertainty about Alibaba has hurt the stock, which remains below levels prior to the cancellation of the Ant IPO.
In a statement cited, Dennis Dick, a proprietary trader at Bright Trading, who holds Alibaba shares, said he had protected against a potential fall when speculation about Ma’s whereabouts began by buying put options. He covered those puts earlier in January on a report that Ma was well and retains a long position in the stock.
However, some said that it would be better for China for Alibaba to be allowed to prosper. Given the reaction of investors to Alibaba’s share prices, if Beijing is rational, it would be wise to not mess with one of the country’s golden gooses,” according to Harry Broadman, partner of consultancy Berkeley Research Group LLC.
China is pushing through new rules on so-called microlending, which included provisions such as capital requirements for technology firms offering loans. Beijing is concerned about the power of its tech companies that have managed to grow, largely unencumbered, over the past few years and have become key parts of everyday life in China.