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Alibaba dives after raised buyback fails to calm antitrust fears

A motorist travels past an Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. office building in Shanghai, China, on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at Alibaba and summoned affiliate Ant Group Co. to a high-level meeting over financial regulations, escalating scrutiny over the twin pillars of billionaire Jack Ma�s internet empire. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg A motorist travels past an Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. office building in Shanghai, China, on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at Alibaba and summoned affiliate Ant Group Co. to a high-level meeting over financial regulations, escalating scrutiny over the twin pillars of billionaire Jack Ma�s internet empire. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
A motorist travels past an Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. office building in Shanghai, China, on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at Alibaba and summoned affiliate Ant Group Co. to a high-level meeting over financial regulations, escalating scrutiny over the twin pillars of billionaire Jack Ma�s internet empire. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Its shares slid more than 5% in early Hong Kong trading to a six-month low. The company said it started buying back shares this quarter and its board has authorized an increase in that programme, effective for two years through the end of 2022.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. raised a proposed stock repurchase program by $4 billion to $10 billion, offering more support to shares battered by a widening antitrust investigation into the country’s most powerful internet corporations.

Once hailed as the standard-bearers of China’s economic and technological ascendancy, Alibaba and rivals like Tencent Holdings Ltd. now face increasing pressure from regulators worried about the speed with which they’re amassing hundreds of millions of users and gaining influence over almost every aspect of daily life. Alibaba’s stock is down roughly 30% from its 2020 peak, battered by the deepening scrutiny and allegations of monopolistic practices at the crown jewel of billionaire Jack Ma’s empire.

Beijing kicked off an antitrust investigation into Alibaba last week and dispatched officials to its Hangzhou headquarters, marking the formal start of the Communist Party’s crackdown on the company that made Ma the country’s best-known entrepreneur. On Sunday, Chinese regulators ordered Ma’s other online titan -- Ant Group Co. -- to return to its roots as a provider of payments services, threatening to throttle growth in its most lucrative businesses of consumer loans and wealth management.

Ma, the flamboyant co-founder of Alibaba and Ant, has all but vanished from public view since Ant’s initial public offering got derailed last month. As of early December, the man most closely identified with the meteoric rise of China Inc. was advised by the government to stay in the country, a person familiar with the matter has said.

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Ma isn’t on the verge of a personal downfall, those familiar with the situation have said. His very public rebuke is instead a warning Beijing has lost patience with the outsize power of its technology moguls, increasingly perceived as a threat to the political and financial stability President Xi Jinping prizes most.

By Coco Liu

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