The stock market flotation of Ant Group, planned to be the biggest share offering in history, has been dramatically suspended just two days before dealings were due to begin in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The move came a day after the financial tech company’s top executives including its founder, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, were summoned to speak to regulators.
Details of the discussions were not published, but a statement from the Shanghai stock exchange said that Ant Group reported “changes to the financial technology regulatory environment and other major issues” in its meeting.
“This material event may cause your company to fail to meet the issuance and listing conditions or information disclosure requirements,” the stock market operator said in its statement. As a result it suspended the planned listing, prompting Ant to put the Hong Kong leg on hold as well.
China’s central bank on Monday issued new draft rules for online micro-lending that raised the amount of cash borrowers were required to hold. Ant Group has multiple subsidiary businesses which include lenders to consumers and small businesses, a credit-scoring company, and a healthcare payment products provider.
The suspension threatens to derail the biggest ever corporate fundraising just days after it attracted huge interest from both institutional and retail investors across the world, with bids worth $3tn chasing $34bn (£22bn) worth of shares.
According to the original timetable Ant, which owns Alipay, one of the dominant Chinese payment platforms, had been scheduled to list on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges on Thursday.
As well as its significance for the company, the move was seen as a symbolic moment in China’s development as a financial centre, with one of the world’s biggest companies eschewing a New York listing, unlike its former parent company, Alibaba, the online retail company founded by Ma. A predecessor to Ant Group was spun out of Alibaba in 2011.
Ma, who remains the public face of the company, and the Ant Group executives, met China’s central bank and three regulators in the wake of a speech he made late last month criticising the Chinese banking system.
Ma also questioned whether international financial regulations were suitable for China, according to reports from a public financial forum held in Shanghai.
Ant said it sincerely apologised to investors for any inconvenience and would keep in touch with the Shanghai stock exchange and the relevant regulators.