© Reuters
© Reuters

By Gina Lee

Investing.com – China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) began an investigation into Alibaba (NYSE:) Group Holding Ltd.’s (HK:) alleged monopolistic practices and summoned affiliate Ant Group Co. to a high-level meeting over financial regulation.

Alibaba’s Hong Kong shares slumped 8.13% to HK$228.20 ($29.43) by 11:21 PM ET (4:21 AM GMT).

The move comes after Alibaba pulled the plug on a $37 billion initial public offering, tipped to be the world’s largest, planned for Ant just days before shares were due to begin trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong. It also decreased the chances of Ant reviving the listing in 2021.

A SAMR online statement said that it had launched a probe into the practice but did not provide further details. However, the twin pillars of the empire built by billionaire Jack Ma face are facing escalated scrutiny. Ant said that it will study and comply with all requirements in a statement on its official WeChat account.

Ma has kept a low profile since Ant pulled the plug on its listing. However, he was advised by the government to stay in the country as of early December.

Regulators had previously warned e-commerce giant Alibaba about the so-called “choosing one from two” practice under which merchants are required to sign exclusive cooperation pacts preventing them from offering products on rival platforms.

Investors remain divided over the extent to which regulators will go after Alibaba and other tech companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd (HK:) as the government introduces a slew of new anti-monopoly regulations. Although few details have been released about the harshness of the new regulations, the draft rules released in November indicate an unusually wide berth for the government to rein in tech entrepreneurs such as Ma.

“It’s clearly an escalation of coordinated efforts to rein in Jack Ma’s empire, which symbolized China’s new ‘too-big-to-fail’ entities. Chinese authorities want to see a smaller, less dominant and more compliant firm,” Zhongguancun Internet Finance Institute researcher Dong Ximiao told Bloomberg.

Investors speculate that the regulations could lead to a range of scenarios, including monetary fines and a break-up of industry leaders.

A separate joint task force, led by the Financial Stability and Development Committee, a financial system regulator, alongside various departments of the central bank and other regulators has reportedly been formed to oversee Ant. The force will be in regular contact with Ant to collect data and other materials, study its restructuring and draft other regulations for the fintech industry.

“China has streamlined a lot of the bureaucracy, so it’s easier for the different regulatory bodies to work together now … of all the regulatory hurdles, this is the biggest by a long shot,” China Skinny managing director Mark Tanner told Bloomberg.

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