TOKYO — A new year does not mean the end of some of the issues that grabbed the attention of Asia’s business leaders and entrepreneurs in 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has not interrupted intense debates over deal making, corporate strategy, industry disruption or succession planning. Nor does it stop consideration of one of the most obvious questions for investors — what offers the best chance of making money over the next 12 months?
Asking our writers to consider some of these issues and give their verdicts might be a little unfair. After all, not many of us would have predicted what turned out to be the biggest global issue of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic.
But these are certainly some of the issues we do expect to be covering in detail in Nikkei Asia in 2021 — and perhaps some of the conclusions here may at least make interesting rereading come December.
Will there be an Ant Group IPO?
The chance of Jack Ma’s Ant Group reviving its initial public offering in 2021, after Chinese authorities torpedoed it at the last minute in November, is at best slim.
The Alibaba Group Holding offshoot, which was aiming for a $39.6 billion IPO in Shanghai and Hong Kong, has been told by regulators to pull back from its higher margin credit, insurance and wealth management operations. They want Ant to set up a separate holding company to ensure capital adequacy and regulatory compliance and become a fully licensed financial institution.
Ant will have to formulate plans to comply and submit them for regulatory review. Bankers and investors said the IPO may even get pushed out to 2022.
Ant, which declined to comment, will likely have to restart the application process and seek Chinese regulatory approval again — where the outcome would be far from certain.
Some think it was Ma’s criticism of regulators, when he likened China’s financial system to a “pawnshop,” that set in motion the chain of events that led to the cancellation of what would have been the world’s largest IPO.
Ma has since kept his head down. But the change in China’s financial regulatory environment, and Beijing’s determination to rein in the power of internet giants, means an Ant IPO is not likely in the coming year — and even it if did happen, analysts have already cut Ant’s valuation to below $200 billion from the previous $320 billion IPO estimate.
Narayanan Somasundaram, Hong Kong
How smart will cars be?
For almost as long as there have been cars, self-driving vehicles have been part dream, part science fiction — but the era now seems at hand.
In 2021, we will see carmakers launching new models with more advanced autonomous driving functions, and companies such as Google and Baidu testing driverless “robotaxis” at much larger scale.