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He may not have been holding a newspaper with the date on it, but Alibaba founder Jack Ma was seen yesterday after a suspicious three month disappearance from public life.

Representatives from the Jack Ma Foundation confirmed that Ma gave a virtual speech for a charitable event celebrating China's rural educators.

A Picture is Worth $58 Billion
Speculation about Ma’s whereabouts has swirled since he deviated from the party line — “that's what Xi said” — while making a speech in October.

Ma, who has a history of advocating for greater market freedoms, was feared to have gone one step too far by accusing China’s financial regulators of stifling innovation in the tech sector.

  • Ma and two top executives from Ant Group (the financial affiliate of Alibaba) were swiftly summoned to a closed-door meeting with Chinese regulators.
  • President Xi Jinping then pulled the plug on Ant's $34 billion IPO, which would have been the largest in history.

A Sigh of Relief: Despite the fact Ma stepped down from his formal role at Alibaba in 2019, yesterday's appearance was clearly meaningful for investors: Alibaba shares soared 8.5%, adding $58 billion to the company's market cap.

Ruling With An Iron Fist
This is not the first time Xi has been forceful with companies that grew too large too quickly.

In 2018, China forced HNA Group to dump holdings in hotels, finance and technology, and refocus on its core airline businesses. It also seized control of Anbang Insurance, steering it back towards core operations after the company expanded into investment products.

Not Out Of The Woods: In December regulators outlined a plan which will require Ant to curtail certain operations and put up significant amounts of capital to support its financial operations.

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