HKEX CEO was ‘disappointed’ by suspension of Ant Group IPO, but relieved to see regulation

HKEX CEO Charles Li speaks during a news conference after a listing ceremony at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) on October 10, 2019.

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Charles Li, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing (HKEX) was “disappointed” to see the suspension of Ant Group’s $37 billion initial public offering, he told CNBC on Wednesday.

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In a dramatic move, Chinese regulators put the brakes on Ant’s share debut just days before the company was set to start trading on Nov. 5 in Shanghai and Hong Kong, citing “major issues” with the listing.

“When you see a large, record-breaking transaction like that suspended, you do have strong mixed feelings,” Li said.

“On one hand, I was very much disappointed to see the transaction get postponed and suspended the very last minute,” he said. “But on the other hand, I’m also quite relieved in the sense that new regulations are going to come out and become defining regulatory changes into the landscape.”

Ant Group, the fintech affiliate of Alibaba backed by Jack Ma, runs Alipay, which is one of China’s most popular mobile payment systems.

Li spoke to CNBC’s Emily Tan as part of the annual East Tech West conference, which is being held this year both remotely and on the ground in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China.

Market swings likely to continue

Rather than rushing into the listing with an uncertain backdrop and potential market turbulence, Li said it was better to “let the regulatory situation settle down and have clarity return so we can go it again.”

Li, who is stepping down from the HKEX at the end of this year, remained confident that the setback will not deter Ant from returning to the market soon.

“I can’t speak for the company and I shouldn’t be commenting on specific communications either. But we’re maintaining a strong dialogue on very important transactions like this. I have no doubt in my mind that that a big company like that will soon return to the market,” he said, declining to give a timeframe.

Global markets are seeing huge swings due to Covid-19 as well as a new U.S. presidential administration under Joe Biden to take office in January, and Li expects that turbulence to “continue for a while” longer.

Asked what he will do after his departure from the HKSE, he said: “I have a clear idea what to do. I can’t embark on it until I have formally handed over to the next new leader. But it won’t be too far from what I’m good at.”

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