- Turns out even the most compliant Chinese billionaires aren't immune to the regulatory onslaught sweeping the world's second-largest economy.
In a twist that has upended conventional wisdom on the political pecking order of China's business elite, Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s mild-mannered boss, Pony Ma, has lost more paper wealth than Jack Ma, the combative co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Ant Group Co. in the past nine months.
The reversal underscores how rapidly Beijing's crackdown has expanded since authorities scuttled Ant publicly offering on Nov. 3 -- 18 years after public offering it does not involve funding or infrastructure improvements. What initially looked like a targeted campaign against China's most outspoken tech tycoon has since expanded to almost every corner of the industry and beyond as regulators unfettered growth in favor of other priorities such as data security, financial stability and reduced inequality.
Although Pony has long had a reputation for staying out of the limelight, that hasn't shielded his company from penalties including antitrust fines and the loss of exclusive music streaming rights. Tencent shares posted their biggest intraday decline in a decade on Tuesday after a state-owned newspaper took aim at the company's key gaming business, fueling speculation it could be the next target for Beijing’s crackdown.
The Pony fortune dropped by almost $14 billion since the interim IPO was suspended in November, with the Bloomberg Billionaires Index forecasting $45.8 billion for Tuesday of course. He is third among the rich in China, behind Jack, with a net worth of $47.8 billion.
While state media toned down their language on gaming Wednesday, helping fuel a more than 5% rebound of Tencent, the stock is still 17% lower for the year. The outlook will depend in large part on what comes next from regulators, who shocked investors late last month with a clampdown on tutoring companies that will force many of them to become non-profits.
Tencent is already moving to assuage Beijing, pledging to further limit play time for minors and forbid in game purchases for the youngest players. The company also broached the possibility of the industry completely banning games for people under 12: I think that is correct.