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Is He or Isn't He? Confusion About Ma and Alibaba Stock Drops 3% After-hours

Contrary to what you might have read, Ma might or might not be stepping down on Monday.

Peter H. Frank
    Sep 07, 2018 6:22 PM  PT
Is He or Isn't He? Confusion About Ma and Alibaba Stock Drops 3% After-hours

A late story today in The New York Times stating that Jack Ma would step down on Monday as executive chairman of the giant tech company he co-founded, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA), sent the stock in the company suddenly plunging nearly 3 percent in after-hours trading tonight.

The only problem is it's unclear if he is stepping down right away.

Given the time difference between New York and Hong Kong, an interview with Ma would have likely occurred many hours earlier. And there has been no mention in the Chinese press about Ma's decision to resign on Monday.

In fact, a journalist from EEO.com.cn reported late Friday evening China time that a source from Alibaba's public relations department told her the news was not true, because "If there is such a plan, the company would've officially announced it to the public."

"Whether it is pursuing philanthropy or staying at Alibaba Group, Jack Ma has always been and always wants to be a teacher, so saying that he dreams about becoming a teacher again in an interview is nothing unusual," the Alibaba source said.

The Times' story came a day after a Bloomberg News article included a television interview with Ma. During that conversation, Ma made clear he was "laying the groundwork for a future away from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the company he co-founded and turned into an e-commerce juggernaut."

Asked when he might make the decision to leave the company,  "You'll know very soon. I've prepared a Jack Ma Foundation," Ma said. "All these things that I've been preparing for 10 years."

However, in its story, with a dateline from Hong Kong on Friday, the Times ran its story suggesting the resignation would be effective Monday.

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"Alibaba's co-founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, said he planned to step down from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to pursue philanthropy in education, a changing of the guard for the $420 billion internet company," the first sentence in the Times story read. 

This, then, led to a sudden - if somewhat abbreviated - sell-off of Alibaba shares.

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This event was made all the more curious as it came several hours after the business news outlet Business Insider said that in response to the Bloomberg story in which Ma said he was considering retiring early from the company, Alibaba shares jumped 2 percent early Friday.

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