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Error Briefly Makes Chinese Education Firm World's Most Valuable Company

Students at Hailiang Foreign Language School in Zhuji watch robots performing in a class in March. The operator of the school, Hailiang, saw its stock price reach unprecedented — and erroneous — heights Thursday.

For about eight minutes on Thursday, Hailiang Education Group outshone Apple, Alphabet and other titans, with a market capitalization that streaked past $5 trillion. But then a market error was corrected that had priced Hailiang's stock at a staggering $200,000, rather than around $10.

With 25.7 million shares outstanding, Hailiang could briefly claim a market capitalization of $5.14 trillion — making the company that operates eight private schools worth far more than Apple's $802 billion market capitalization.

The stratospheric rise in the price for Hailiang's American deposit shares began at 9:35, according to Nasdaq data. It persisted there (actually, at 199,999.99) for several minutes, with 700 shares even selling at that price, according to market data.

"It was a clearly erroneous trade and was canceled," a Nasdaq representative tells NPR. The exchange says it considers a sale to be an "outlier transaction" — and subject to cancellation — if a security sells for more than three times its previous price.

The Brobdingnagian transaction was all due to "a fat-finger trading error," The South China Morning Post reports, suggesting the wrong price had been entered.

Hailiang is based near Hangzhou; as of last summer, it had 18,673 students enrolled in its schools.

Hailiang officials did not reply to requests for comment before this story was published. The Morning Post says the company says it doesn't know how the error occurred.

For much of the past year, Hailiang's price has hovered below the $10 mark. The company's shares closed around $10 on Thursday, putting its market cap at $266 million.

The education company has been traded on the Nasdaq since July 2015. It says it is currently the third-largest player in China's private school sector.

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