The Business Times

Chinese education tycoon loses US$15b as shares plunge 98%

Published Mon, Jul 26, 2021 · 01:53 PM

[HONG KONG] Larry Chen, the former school teacher who became one of the world's richest people, has lost his billionaire status as China cracks down on its private education sector.

Chen, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Gaotu Techedu, is now worth US$336 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after shares in his online-tutoring firm plunged by almost two-thirds in New York trading on Friday on reports of the regulatory overhaul.

On Saturday, China released new regulations that ban companies that teach school curriculums from making profits, raising capital or going public.

It's the latest blow for Mr Chen, who has shed more than US$15 billion in wealth since late January as Gaotu's stock tumbled.

Gaotu "will comply with the regulations and fulfill social responsibilities", Mr Chen said in a statement on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like service, late on Saturday night.

Mr Chen wasn't the only one who saw his wealth plunge.

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TAL Education Group CEO Zhang Bangxin's fortune fell by US$2.5 billion to US$1.4 billion after the company's shares plunged 71 per cent in New York on Friday.

New Oriental Education & Technology Group chairman Yu Minhong also lost his billionaire status, shedding US$685 million and leaving him with a stake value of US$579 million after the firm sank 54 per cent.

Both companies released similar statements vowing to comply with the new rules. Gaotu, TAL and New Oriental didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the wealth declines.

It's the latest chapter in a spectacular rise and fall for Mr Chen, who founded Gaotu, formerly called GSX, in 2014 and saw the stock rise more than 13-fold from its debut in 2019 through a Jan 27 high.

But Gaotu's shares have since lost 98 per cent of their value, buffetted also by the implosion of an investor, Bill Hwang's Archegos Capital Management.

Mr Hwang's family office had built highly leveraged positions in Gaotu and other firms using swaps. When some of those stocks fell, banks demanded collateral that Mr Hwang was unable to provide, so they offloaded large blocks of Gaotu and other shares. Gaotu plunged as much as 56 per cent in one day.

The company disclosed in September that it was being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and short sellers including Carson Block's Muddy Waters questioned the firm's business.

China's harshest-ever curbs on its US$100 billion private-tutoring and online education sector have hit investors from Tiger Global Management to Temasek Holdings, with platforms losing the ability to go public, depriving their backers of exits, and foreign capital being banned from the sector.

The overhaul will also weigh on leading industry players over the next several years, Catherine Lim, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a note Sunday, referring to New Oriental and TAL.

Operating losses "can only worsen", she said.

BLOOMBERG

READ MORE: China's edtech assault hits investors from Singapore's Temasek and GIC to SoftBank

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