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Ant plans US$17.5b Hong Kong IPO, no cornerstones

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Jack Ma's Ant Group is aiming to raise US$17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won't seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter.

[HONG KONG] Jack Ma's Ant Group is aiming to raise US$17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won't seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter.

The fintech giant has assessed investor interest, betting it can pull off the Hong Kong portion of the initial public offering without cornerstone investors that are often needed for large deals, according to the people. Ant is leaning toward inviting these big investors for the Shanghai sale to mitigate price fluctuations, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

The Hangzhou-based firm is planning to issue new stock equal to about 11 per cent to 15 per cent of the shares outstanding and split the float evenly between Hong Kong and Shanghai, the people added. Ant is mulling what could be the world's largest IPO, seeking to raise about US$35 billion in the dual listing at a valuation of about US$250 billion, people familiar have said.

Plans are still under discussion and could change. Ant declined to comment in an emailed statement.

Cornerstone investors, more common in Hong Kong than in other markets, are usually large institutions that agree to hold the shares for about six months in exchange for a sizable allocation. While the investments boost confidence in the listing company, they've been criticised for draining liquidity from the market. Companies that chose to break with the tradition have been burned in the past including Budweiser Brewing Co.

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Ant currently has about 27 billion shares outstanding. It's also planning to issue about 6 per cent of its shares, on top of the new float, to help redeem stock for early C-round international investors that couldn't invest directly in the onshore entity, according to its prospectus.

For Ant's Shanghai sale, five companies have agreed to subscribe to the listing via new mutual funds, Ant said in a filing Tuesday. The funds will seek to raise US$1.8 billion each, capping Ant's shares to 10 per cent of the underlying fund assets.

If markets are favourable, Ant's IPO may top Saudi Aramco's record US$29 billion sale. Ant could exceed Bank of America's market capitalisation, and be more than twice the size of Citigroup Inc. Among US banks, only JPMorgan is bigger at almost US$290 billion.

Ant received a nod from regulators in Shanghai on Friday to proceed with its share sale. It's also seeking a listing hearing with the Hong Kong stock exchange as early as next week, and could list as soon as October, people familiar said.

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