Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us

Business

‘Dusty Hunter’ Scores Cecil B. DeMille’s Liquor Collection

Published

on

Kevin Langdon Ackerman had a good lead, so he left his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Beachwood Canyon on a Tuesday morning in August and drove 18 miles northwest to Sylmar, Calif.

He guided his metallic black BMW off the 210 and up the winding road to the top of Little Tujunga Canyon; on the right side, Middle Ranch, an equestrian facility and popular wedding venue, on the left, multimillion-dollar estates, everything surrounded by the mountains of the Angeles National Forest. Eventually he reached his destination, a Santa Fe-style home built in the early 1900s.

There he met his contact, Caroline Debbané, who took him not through the front door but around to the back of the property. There, a modern lock code opened the swinging cellar doors, and the two descended a flight of concrete steps to the bunker.

One entire wall had built-in wine turrets, with dusty bottles of wine and champagne lying on their side. Another wall acted as a liquor cabinet, with more bottles of bourbon, Irish whiskey and rum, untouched for over a half century. Mr. Ackerman had found the booze collection of Cecil B. DeMille, the legendary director and producer.

“I’m thinking, ‘Holy crap! I want this, and I need to get this,’” Mr. Ackerman said. “In my mind, this was born of and ultimately the fruit of me being incredibly vigilant over the last eight years.”

Mr. Ackerman, himself a filmmaker by trade, is also a dusty hunter: an antique collector who only searches for still-sealed bottles of vintage alcohol, usually American whiskey. Discussion of dusty hunting, and the use of that exact term, appears on the internet around 2007, mostly on whiskey enthusiast blogs and message boards, such as Straight Bourbon. (Collectors of vintage nail polish, chronicled by The Times in 2014, are also considered dusty hunters.)

Though this is a fairly new hobby, it is one already facing its end days, as there are simply fewer and fewer undiscovered bottles still out there to find. Mr. Ackerman took up the quest in 2012, after coming across an online article about a group of friends who had specifically flown to Kentucky to search liquor store shelves for old bottles of bourbon from the much lauded but by then defunct Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

ImageMr. Ackerman with his treasures.
Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times

“There were these funny photos of guys standing in front of their cars, holding up dusty bottles as if they were trophy fish they had just caught,” he said. A neophyte whiskey drinker at the time — “I had only had Jack and Jim,” a.k.a. Daniel’s and Beam — he was intrigued. Mr. Ackerman was already a collector of movie memorabilia, and had long had a fascination for objects from a bygone era.

One Monday morning, in the cigar-shaped, 8-by-25-foot office in the Taft Building that he shared with an intern, Mr. Ackerman couldn’t concentrate on the script he was supposed to be writing. He feigned writer’s block, took $300 out of the A.T.M. and drove as far south as Long Beach, with a goal of visiting 100 liquor stores that day. He only hit about half that number but still managed to find 23 vintage bottles, including decades-old gems like Ancient Age, Old Charter, brown-label Wild Turkey from the 1980s and five bottles of Old Grand-Dad from back when it was produced by National Distillers and considered superior in taste to its modern incarnation.

That night before he went to bed, Mr. Ackerman put one of the bottles up on something known as Bourbon Exchange, a buy/sell auction group that had been set up on Facebook. When he woke up the next morning, the highest bid was already at $100. He was hooked.

“It really did seize me pretty quickly,” he said. (He does, however, personally consume a good portion of his finds.)

For the next several years Mr. Ackerman would go dusty hunting several times per week, alternating between working on a film project one day, driving around the greater Los Angeles area on the others. If the city has more than 1,500 liquor retail outlets, he figures he has hit most all of them.

“In a very real manner, six years ago or so, people started to realize that buying old bottles is building an investment portfolio in a sense,” Mr. Ackerman said. “They will appreciate in a similar way to pork bellies, silver or gold. Bottles that cost me $20 became worth $800 and to me that’s a lot more fun than buying a muni bond for the Los Angeles water department. I’d much rather hound liquor stores.”

Pablo Moix was one of America’s first dusty hunters. Back in his Mudslide-slinging, fern bar mixology days of the late 1990s, Mr. Moix, 45, a longtime bartender, began grabbing any intriguing old bottles he saw at liquor stores. “I was accumulating weird things just to have them at the house,” he said. “Eventually I started asking myself the question: ‘Why is this so valuable? Why is this collectible?’”

Credit…Old Lightning

When Mr. Moix became more intentional with his dusty hunting in the early aughts, it was in pursuit of tequila; a lot of brands had gone defunct and he yearned to find them. Come 2011 he was noticing a fervor developing for American whiskey, with more collectors invading the scene. By then a bar’s beverage buyer in Los Angeles, he immediately began stockpiling cases of well-aged Rittenhouse ryes, Vintage Bourbon 17 Year Old and Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, which was once made at Stitzel-Weller when Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle was literally at the helm.

Eventually, he and a business partner, Steve Livigni, were spending 10 hours a day, every day, searching for bottles throughout California and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. On one road trip they visited nearly every single liquor store between Detroit and L.A. “We later learned we were apparently hitting liquor stores in neighborhoods that are essentially considered war zones,” Mr. Moix said.

Though they might be sheepish to admit it, dusty hunters have long believed that the more crime-riddled the neighborhood, the more liquor stores there are with cashiers standing behind bulletproof glass, the more likely they are to find great vintage scores. Mr. Ackerman has been nearly mugged a few times and once had a sawed-off shotgun held to his head when he peeked into the back room of a Koreatown liquor store and then started rifling through boxes without permission.

The most well-known dusty hunter today might be Eric Witz, 42, a senior production editor at the MIT Press, who posts his scores on Instagram at @aphonik, often with detailed analysis of the origins of each bottle. A lover of antiques and enthusiast of cocktail history, he began dusty hunting around 2010 with the purchase of a 1940s bottle of Forbidden Fruit, a strange grapefruit-and-honey liqueur which has not been on the market for decades. Mr. Witz collects not just whiskey, the obsession of most current dusty hunters, but vintage rum, brandy and Chartreuse, all of which are soaring in value at the moment.

“I love the idea of being able to taste something that was made a few generations ago,” he said. Spirits have a higher alcohol proof than wine, so they don’t really age in the bottle or go bad; in that way, they are like drinkable time capsules. In fact, most all dusty hunters believe vintage spirits are superior in taste to what is being made today, even if they can’t quite explain why. Maybe better quality materials and more artisanal production methods were being used back then, maybe international beverage conglomerates weren’t yet mucking up quality, or maybe something magical is happening in the glass over all these years.

Credit…Eric Witz

“When some alcohol has blown off, the concentration is deeper,” said Scott Torrence, 52, owner of Chapter 4, a supplier of fine and rare liquids in Culver City, Calif., who has tasted plenty of Prohibition-era bourbon. “The depth and richness is like the difference between simple syrup and maple syrup.”

Dusty hunters like Mr. Ackerman, Mr. Moix and Mr. Witz got in at the perfect time. In 2010, bourbon was a $1.9 billion industry in America; today it’s worth more than $4 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. More and more people are drinking bourbon, buying bourbon and even making bourbon. This enthusiasm has led to more collectors wanting to revisit bottles from the so-called “glut” era, the decades of the 1960s through 1990s when the rise of vodka and a general lack of interest in brown spirits led to many great bottles never being purchased, sitting on retail shelves, gathering a fine coating of time’s grime.

Still, it takes a certain amount of skill to dusty hunt: an awareness of shuttered brands from the past, the ability to read esoteric laser coding and to notice bottle sizes, like quarts, that no longer exist. But the internet has made it easier. When Mr. Ackerman started, he only had a Razr flip-phone; now he can quickly call up Facebook, Reddit or bottlebluebook.com, an online pricing guide, to see the value of whatever oddity he has just stumbled upon.

Though some say the glory days of dusty hunting are long past, with almost all liquor stores in the U.S. now completely picked over, there are still optimistic youths getting into the hobby, like Jonah Goodman, a 22-year-old restaurant consultant in Atlanta. Raised in Louisville, Ky., by a father who loved bourbon, he became precociously fascinated with the spirit. By 2018, barely old enough to legally drink, he was trawling Kentucky liquor stores, even finding a 1984 Eagle Rare 101 in his earliest days on the prowl. Mr. Goodman believes that the pandemic has injected new life into the hobby, like so many others.

Credit…Randy Goodman

“There have been a whole slew of recent dusty finds because so many people are bored, stuck at home, and have started going around searching stores,” Mr. Goodman said, noting that there must still be vintage stuff lingering in liquor store back rooms that is finally being put out front. He also suspects distributors have finally had time to reorganize their warehouses and are now sending lingering bottles from the late 1990s and early 2000s into retail. “It kills me when I see people on Instagram posting something they just found in Atlanta. Kills me.”

While the legalities of buying and selling vintage liquor for personal use fall into a bit of a gray area, some completely legitimate businesses have opened to showcase dusty hunting’s spoils. One of the first was the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., founded in 2011 by Bill Thomas. That same year, Jamie Boudreau hung the shingle for Canon in Seattle, having amassed a good portion of his dusty collection on eBay, back when that was a legal avenue for buying vintage.

Mr. Moix and Mr. Livigni used their collection to open Old Lightning, a high-end speakeasy-style bar, in the Venice neighborhood of L.A. in 2013, but it is currently on hiatus because of the pandemic and they are now focusing on their restaurants, Scopa and Dama. Recently, longtime dusty hunters Justin Sloan, 35, and Justin Thompson, 40, opened what could be called a brick-and-mortar ode to the hobby, Justins’ House of Bourbon, a shop and tasting room with locations in both Lexington and Louisville, Ky. Since 2018 it has been legal for businesses in that state to buy and sell vintage spirits, giving them a leg up on dusty hunters in 48 other states (North Carolina is the only other state that allows “antique spirituous liquor” sales.)

If happening upon a great score at a liquor store or estate sale typically involves a snap judgment calculus of how much cash to offer, Mr. Ackerman was given a little more time for the DeMille collection. Ms. Debbané, a wine importer who had been tasked with brokering the deal, left him alone in the cellar for a good 20 minutes to assess what was there, to hold bottles up to the light to see their clarity (if the liquid appears milky it is usually no good), to examine the “fill” levels (how much liquid is still in the bottle), and to see if the tax stamps and bottle cap seals were still intact. It was a stunning array of some of the greatest bottles in American whiskey lore.

“These are all unicorns,” Mr. Ackerman said, using the parlance of collectors who have come across something they never expected to see.

There were 10 bottles of Old Overholt Rye barreled in 1936, five bottles of 1930s Belmont Bottled in Bond, bottles of Kentucky Tavern, J.W. Dant and Old Taylor bourbons, some 1930s Jameson Irish whiskey, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne from 1929, and a near-flawless case of extremely rare Green River Straight Bourbon Whiskey from 1936. The funny thing was, DeMille wasn’t considered much of a drinker. Unusually health-conscious for his era, he had a mere ounce of bourbon in his nightly Old Fashioned, according to his biographer, Scott Eyman.

Credit…FPG/Getty Images

What DeMille was, however, was a serial philanderer; after purchasing the 700-acre secluded ranch that he would eventually dub Paradise, he used it to host devoted mistresses like Jeanie Macpherson, Gladys Rosson and Julia Faye. His wife Constance, older than DeMille and very much a Victorian lady, preferred not to deal with the snake-riddled outdoors and a ranch that lacked electricity and creature comforts. The director of “The Ten Commandments” and “The King of Kings” also frequently hosted his silver-screen friends for bacchanalian bashes attended by Charlie Chaplin, Charlton Heston and their ilk.

DeMille died of a heart attack in 1959 at 77, having found piety late in life, and in 1963 his family bequeathed the ranch to the Hathaway Foundation which turned it into an orphanage for abused children. Separating themselves from DeMille’s sordid behavior, they sealed off the basement until 2018, when its current owners bought the house for nearly $5 million.

As not just a dusty hunter, but a fan of Hollywood history — he rents an apartment at the Villa Monterey because it was once inhabited by Marlon Brando — Mr. Ackerman, overcome by the discovery, made an offer in the five-figure range. The homeowners said they wanted 24 hours to think about it, to do their own research, to maybe even receive further bids. If the early days of dusty hunting often involved bilking an unknowing bottle owner, everyone is a lot more savvy these days. In fact, with just a little research one could find a similar collection had been discovered just a few years earlier.

DeMille’s longtime neighbor in Little Tujunga Canyon was Jean-Baptiste “J.B.” Leonis, a banker and liquor importer who founded the city of Vernon. Sensing that Prohibition was on the horizon, in the early 1920s he began to stash booze in a 10-bolt bank vault behind a trick bookcase. In 2017, upon the death of Leonis’ grandson, Leonis C. Malburg, the collection was finally unearthed, featuring numerous pint bottles of Old Crow distilled in 1912, Hermitage Bottled in Bond whiskey distilled in 1914, and rye bottled specifically for the iconic Biltmore Hotel. Staff members at Christie’s Auction House were stunned when it sold at auction for $640,000 in 2018.

Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times
Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times

“You put celebrity on top of that, now you’re talking an order of magnitude seven times greater. That’s what celebrity can do,” said Mr. Torrence of Chapter 4, who was Christie’s senior wine specialist at the time. He recalled Christie’s 2004 auction for tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s wine collection which sold for an astonishing $3.7 million, much higher than he had anticipated. “As an auction house you really want these items that generate news.”

Despite such competition, Mr. Ackerman’s offer was accepted the next day, and he spent several days migrating the collection back to his apartment and the two storage units he rents specifically for his vintage finds. He’d been told that all the good stuff was already lined up on the bunker’s concrete floor and that everything else was junk, but upon inspecting some bottles lying in the wine turrets at random, he unearthed the crown jewel of the collection.

It was something Mr. Ackerman typically doesn’t like to find and certainly never pays good money for: an empty. The filthy bottle of De Goñi sherry was signed and dated by DeMille.

At the bottom, on a hand-attached label, scrawled in the great man’s cursive, it read: “This bottle of sherry was bought in New York City the day Constance and I were married, Aug. 16, 1902. We decided to keep it until the wedding of our first born — we did open it then because the cellar was full of soldiers.”

It was not just the provenance that provided a sort of “certificate of authenticity” for the collection; it was also proof of perhaps simpler, happier times in the DeMilles’ lives. And now, a century later, Mr. Ackerman had captured all of the epic director’s remaining soldiers.

Source

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Business

The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

Published

on

The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

Source

Continue Reading

Business

Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

Published

on

The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

Source

Continue Reading

Business

Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

Published

on

As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

Source

Continue Reading

Trending