Stock listing of Jack Ma’s Ant Group on Shanghai and Hong Kong abruptly halted

The stock market debut by Chinese tech giant Ant Group has been abruptly halted.

Ant, backed by Jack Ma, billionaire founder of e-commerce platform Alibaba, was set to sell shares worth about US$ 34.4 billion on Thursday.

The listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong would have been the biggest stock market debut to date.

But Chinese authorities have cited “major issues” as the reason behind the eleventh hour suspension.

Ant runs Alipay, the main online payment system in China, which has eclipsed cash, cheques and credit cards.

Alibaba, which owns a third of Ant, saw it share price plunge 9.6% in Hong Kong trading on Wednesday.

This followed a 8.1% fall in New York on Tuesday after the suspension was announced.

Alibaba is listed in both the US and Hong Kong, and had previously broken the record for biggest stock market debut in 2014.

This share price drops wiped nearly US$ 76 billion off its value, more than double the amount Ant was planning to raise.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange said in a statement that Mr Ma had been called in for “supervisory interviews”.

A change to the regulatory environment meant Ant no longer met “listing conditions or information disclosure requirements”.

The Hong Kong exchange then reported that Ant had decided to suspend its planned listing.

Ant was due to sell about 11% of its shares across the two stock exchanges. But the pricing valued the whole business at about US$ 31.3 billion.

The previous largest debut was Saudi Aramco’s $29.4bn float last December.

“Ant Group sincerely apologises to you for any inconvenience caused by this development,” the company said in a message to investors.

“We will properly handle the follow-up matters in accordance with applicable regulations of the two stock exchanges.”