Here's what happens if you own a share of a Chinese company that gets delisted

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  • Rising tensions between the U.S. and China are increasing the chance that Chinese stocks listed in New York might be forced off exchanges there.
  • Removal of a stock from a major exchange does not necessarily mean investors cannot trade it.
  • But delisting brings greater investment — and now political — risk.

BEIJING — For Americans looking to play the China growth story, investing in the country’s U.S.-listed stocks now bears a political risk that could lead to delisting.

That means a Chinese company traded on an exchange like the Nasdaq would lose access to a broad pool of buyers, sellers and intermediaries. The centralization of these different market participants helps create what’s called liquidity, which in turn allows investors to quickly turn their holdings into cash.

The development of the U.S. stock market over the decades also means companies listed on established exchanges are part of a system of regulation and institutional operations that can offer certain investor protections.

Once a stock is delisted, the company’s shares can keep trading through a process known as “over-the-counter.” But that means the stock is outside the system — of major financial institutions, deep liquidity and the ability for sellers to find a buyer quickly without losing money.

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“The most practical thing for a typical investor to worry about is price,” said James Early, CEO of investment research firm Stansberry China.

“You’re probably going to have to give (a soon-to-be-delisted stock) up sooner or later, so make your bet now,” he said. “Are you better off selling now, or wait for some kind of a bounce?”

The New York Stock Exchange announced last week it would delist three Chinese telecommunications giants named in President Donald Trump’s executive order that banned U.S. investment in companies with alleged ties to China’s military.

Assuming trades would be settled through a third-party system on Jan. 7 and 8, the exchange said it would suspend local trading in shares of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom before the market open on Jan. 11.

The three companies’ shares fell in New York trading on Monday. Trading volume for the day neared that of the entire previous month, according to data from Wind Information.

But the companies’ Hong Kong-traded shares rose during Tuesday’s session after the New York Stock Exchange reversed its delisting decision, citing additional conversations with regulators on the executive order.

Trump’s executive order gives U.S. investors until Nov. 11 to divest, or sell out, of affected holdings. The majority of the companies named, if publicly traded, are not listed in the U.S.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have escalated under the Trump administration. A dispute that focused on trade just over two years ago has since spilled into technology and finance.

It is unclear how U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will handle financial flows between the two countries. Analysts expect his administration will rally traditional U.S. allies to work together on putting greater pressure on Beijing to address longstanding complaints about the country’s unfair business practices.

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