HONG KONG (AP) — Ant Group, the online payments arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, announced plans Monday for an initial public stock offering that could become the world’s biggest since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Ant, valued at $150 billion after a 2018 private fundraising round, gave no indication how much money it hopes to raise in the joint offering in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But the offering would test investor willingness to look beyond the pandemic and worsening global economy.
The company will list on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s (SSE) STAR board and on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
A public offering in Hong Kong would also give foreign investors a chance to own a piece of the biggest player in the huge Chinese online payments industry. That could be doubly attractive at a time when the pandemic has given the Chinese e-commerce industry a boost.
Apart from mobile payments service Alipay, Ant Group also operates one of the world’s largest money market funds and runs Sesame Credit, a private credit rating system for its users.
“The innovative measures implemented by SSE STAR market and the SEHK have opened the doors for global investors to access leading-edge technology companies from the most dynamic economies in the world and for those companies to have greater access to the capital markets,” Eric Jing, executive chairman of Ant Group, said in a statement.
Alibaba founded its Alipay service in 2004 to serve as an escrow system between buyers and sellers on its Taobao e-commerce platform. Payments from buyers would be held by Alipay until transactions were completed, and then transferred to the sellers. It was seen as an important step in beefing up trust for users on the platform.
Alipay was later spun off into a separate firm Ant Financial. It renamed itself as Ant Group in June this year. New York-listed Alibaba owns a 33% stake in Ant Group, and last year held a secondary listing in Hong Kong where it raised $13 billion, the biggest public offering in 2019.
In recent years, Ant Group has invested heavily in payments providers in regions including Southeast Asia and Europe, looking to offer financial services to more users around the world. Together with its partners, Ant Group serves over 1 billion users globally.
In 2019, it bought U.K. payments company WorldFirst to expand its global reach.
“We strive to enable all consumers and small businesses to have equal access to financial and other services that are inclusive, green and sustainable,” the company said in a statement.