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Ant Group IPO-linked Chinese funds to return $9bn to investors

Asset companies also seek approval to set aside 18-month lockup requirement

Ant Group and others involved in the canceled listing are unwinding what could have been the world's largest initial public offering after the deal was pulled on Nov. 3.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Chinese funds that raised more than 60 billion yuan ($9.12 billion) targeting Ant Group's now-suspended initial public offering, which had been expected to raise up to $39.6 billion, are offering full refunds to the more than 10 million individual retail investors who had sought a piece of the IPO.

Starting Monday, investors will have one month to apply for a full refund, according to a joint statement issued by the five fund management companies and a fund unit of Ant Group. All fees incurred for the investment will be waived, and fund houses said they will apply to the regulator to set aside the 18-month lockup requirement so investors can choose when to exit.

Ant Group and others involved in the canceled offering are unwinding what could have been the world's largest IPO after the deal was pulled two days before the planned market debut on Nov. 5, after the Shanghai Stock Exchange cited a shift in online banking regulations by Chinese authorities.

The offering had created such a frenzy that retail investors put in bids worth $3 trillion in Hong Kong and Shanghai, all of which had to be refunded. Ant, an affiliate of technology conglomerate of Alibaba Group Holding, had been planning a duel listing on the cities' exchanges.

Not all retail investors are in a hurry for refunds. Jay Wei, a Beijing-based online education platform lecturer, said he will not seek a refund just yet as the two funds he invested in have shown returns higher than a bank savings rate.

The on-demand benchmark savings rate in China stands at 0.35%, while depositors get 1.1% for three months and 1.3% for six months. The CSI 300 Index of the largest shares trading in Shanghai and Shenzhen is up 8.3% since Sept. 25, the day the five asset managers launched the new funds to raise 12 billion yuan each.

The funds had planned to invest up to 10% of their assets to buy Ant's IPO shares as strategic investors and deploy the remaining in other internet and tech stocks and bonds. The fund unit of Ant did not disclose how much it had raised.

The company's online payment platform, Alipay, was the sole distributor of the five funds, which were sold out within days as an average of eight investors placed orders each second during the subscription period.

The funds were offered by E Fund Management, Penghua Fund Management, China Asset Management, China Universal Asset Management and Zhong Ou Asset Management.

The funds opened a path for mom-and-pop investors with insufficient capital to invest directly in the IPO. On Shanghai's STAR Market, investors are required to have at least 500,000 yuan, or roughly $75,000, in their stock accounts to trade on the market.

After the collapse of the IPO, some of the investors sought refunds and others demanded the removal of the lockup period.

China's government has been tightening regulations in other sectors. Authorities this month moved to rein in big tech companies by proposing a slew of rules to combat anti-competitive practices, triggering a sell-off in the tech sector.

The guidelines were announced by the State Administration for Market Regulation on Nov. 10 -- a day before Alibaba's annual Singles Day mega-retail event -- and target practices such as selling goods below cost, price discrimination based on customer data analytics and exclusive sales agreements.

"I think I'll wait to see if fund managers can get the approval to remove the lockup requirement, so I can choose a better time to sell," Wei said.

Despite the tightening of regulations on internet companies, Wei said he is not concerned. "I am looking at long-term investment returns."

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