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Alibaba Recovers After Report on ‘Ma’ Briefly Erased $26 Billion

(Bloomberg) -- A brief bout of concern about the status of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma triggered wild swings in shares of the e-commerce company on Tuesday, underscoring continued investor anxiety toward China’s tech sector after a year-long crackdown.

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Alibaba plunged as much as 9.4% in Hong Kong, erasing about $26 billion of market value, after state broadcaster CCTV reported that authorities in the company’s home base of Hangzhou had imposed curbs on an individual surnamed Ma.

The stock erased the majority of those losses after a statement from Hangzhou police indicated the accused person’s name covered three characters. CCTV also updated its report to show a third character. Jack Ma’s Chinese name is the two-character Ma Yun.

The quick reversal “shows the relatively weak sentiment in the tech space,” said Willer Chen, analyst at Forsyth Barr Asia Ltd. “I think the market is just a bit too sensitive on this.”

The accused person works as the director of hardware research and development at an IT company, the state-run Global Times reported, citing unidentified sources. CCTV said the person was placed under so-called “compulsory measures” on April 25 after being accused of inciting subversion of state power and other activities that endangered national security.

CCTV’s two-sentence report lacked other details but rattled investors already on edge over Beijing’s clampdown over every corner of the internet sphere, which kicked off by targeting Ma. Regulators halted the IPO of Ma’s Ant Group Co. before waging a campaign to rein in alleged abuses and excesses by increasingly powerful internet firms.

Chinese authorities in the city of Hangzhou, where both Alibaba and Ant are based, were unavailable for comment during the Golden Week holiday. Representatives for Alibaba and Ant didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Alibaba shares were down 0.2% to HK$101.90 at 1:23 p.m. in Hong Kong. The firm’s dollar bonds were also little changed after a morning selloff.

(Updates with quote in fourth paragraph and adds line on dollar bonds in last paragraph)

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