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Ant Financial's IPO could be the largest of all time

Ant Financial on Monday filed for an initial public offering in Hong Kong and Shanghai, after years of speculation and anticipation.

Why it matters: This could be the largest IPO of all time, topping the $29 billion raised last year by Saudi Aramco. It's also a passive aggressive escalation of China-U.S. tensions, with Ant snubbing New York.

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What is Ant: The fintech arm of Alibaba Group, which in 2014 chose New York for what, at the time, was a record-breaking IPO.

  • It began as a digital payments platform (Alipay), but has since expanded into everything from lending to wealth management to insurance.
  • Ant also is a major investor in startups, despite being considered a "unicorn" itself, and has formed joint ventures for services like local delivery.
  • In short, the company wants to be viewed as a rival to tech services companies as much as it is to banks.

By the numbers: Ant's IPO filing shows $3.2 billion of profits on $10.5 billion in revenue for the first half of 2020. The profit figure represents a year-over-year gain in excess of 1,000%, while revenue was up around 40%.

  • It's raised over $23 billion in the private markets, including from U.S. firms like BlackRock, General Atlantic, Silver Lake, and Warburg Pincus.
  • The most recent private valuation, from last fall, was $200 billion. Multiple reports suggest the IPO will target an enterprise value of at least $225 billion.

The joint Hong Kong-Shanghai STAR Market listing is a first, and Axios China editor Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian thinks my "snub" language may be too soft, per an early morning Slack message:

"U.S. commentators keep speculating that Hong Kong can't last as a financial hub due to the Hong Kong national security law, but it's clear that China views things differently. (So do I)."

The bottom line: The IPO market is going gangbusters, as public equities bulls continue to stampede away from the real economy, and Ant is at the head of the class.