Look Ma, No…I’m Not Being Detained

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That’s a relief.

He may not have been holding a newspaper with the date on it, but Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been seen on a pre-recorded video after a suspicious three month disappearance from public life.

A Picture is Worth $58 Billion

Speculation about Ma’s whereabouts has swirled since he deviated from the party line — “that’s what Xi said” — while making a speech in October. Ma, who has a history of advocating for greater market freedoms, was feared to have gone to step far by accusing China’s financial regulators of stifling innovation in the tech sector.

  • Ma and two top executives from Ant Financial (the financial affiliate of Alibaba) were swiftly summoned to a closed-door meeting by Chinese regulators.
  • President Xi Jinping then forced Ant to cancel its planned $34 billion IPO, which would have been the largest in history.

He’s Back: Yesterday Ma appeared for fifty seconds via pre-recorded video for charitable initiative Wednesday. The image of Ma, who did not address his absence or the state of his companies, was clearly a relief to investors: Alibaba’s market value soared $58 billion after the clip circulated online, with its Hong Kong-listed shares up 8.5% Wednesday.

Xi Drives Me Crazy

Xi has shown little tolerance for companies that grow beyond the remit of regulators.

In 2018, China forced HNA Group to dump holdings in hotels, finance and technology and refocus on its core airline businesses. It also seized control of Anbang Insurance, steering it back towards core operations after the company expanded into investment products.

Not Out Of The Woods: Ma’s appearance doesn’t mean Alibaba and Ant are free and clear. Under plans revealed in December, Ant Group will be required to return to its original online payments business, and curtail its investment and loan activities.