Investing in the PRC

For good or ill, the People’s Republic of China has decided change the regulatory rules regarding Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s banking activities. The company has lost

almost all its stock-market gains this year, just days after [PRC] regulators signaled a major change in their posture toward the e-commerce behemoth and its finance affiliate, Ant Group Co.

Notice that: the regulatory change does not cover the PRC’s banking or finance industries—it’s explicitly targeted at Alibaba’s subordinate, Ant. The PRC’s

central bank released a harshly worded statement Sunday criticizing Ant’s business practices and instructing the financial-technology giant to shift its focus back to its mainstay—and less lucrative—digital-payments business.

Notice that, too: the ruling is not the outcome of any sort of investigation, followed by trial in court to assess whether anything wrong actually was being done, followed by a court ruling based on the presented evidence. No, the order is government diktat.

Investors, unwarned by the existence of an investigation or subsequent existence of a court trial, have lost heavily. The only warning investors had was a Christmas Eve announcement of an investigation—and then came the diktat.

Alibaba’s swift comedown has led investors to reassess the regulatory risks faced by [PRC] internet companies…
The hard part is figuring out “how much of the recent regulatory moves against Ant and Alibaba is politically based, how far it will go, and when it will be over,” said Alex Au, managing director at Alphalex Capital Management, a Hong Kong-based hedge fund.


This is what rule by law does, as compared to rule of law. This is why it’s foolish, potentially to the point of violating fiduciary responsibility, to invest in PRC businesses.

Remember this for the coming year.

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