Chinese tech stocks fall sharply on rising regulatory concerns

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Chinese technology stocks dropped sharply on growing concerns of possible delistings from US exchanges and reported plans by Beijing to take control of companies’ user data.

The Hong Kong-listed shares of Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce group, were down 4.2 per cent by midday on Thursday, while those of internet business Tencent dropped 2.3 per cent. Shares in Baidu, the search engine group that debuted in the city this week, tumbled almost 9 per cent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Tech index, which tracks shares in big Chinese tech groups, fell as much as 5 per cent.

The losses came after the US Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday that it was taking initial steps to force foreign companies listed in New York to provide access to financial audits or risk being forcibly delisted after three years of non-compliance. Beijing has long denied US regulators access to Chinese companies’ books.

Analysts said sentiment was also hit on Thursday by a Bloomberg News report that China’s government had proposed creating a joint venture to oversee all user data harvested by the country’s tech companies.

If implemented, the plan would mark a substantial escalation of a regulatory crackdown on China’s tech sector, which state media and top officials have criticised for amassing too much power and influence.

“Without a shadow of a doubt you’re going to see a correction” of Chinese tech shares, said Andy Maynard, a Hong Kong-based trader at China Renaissance, an investment bank. “I literally don’t have a buy order [for Alibaba].”

Maynard added that the latest round of bad news for Chinese tech groups had piled additional pressure on share prices already hit by a global shift in investor attention from high-growth companies to cheaper, unloved stocks that are expected to benefit as the global economy recovers from Covid-19.

Louis Tse, managing director at brokerage Wealthy Securities in Hong Kong, said the SEC’s move would put pressure on China to respond to demands for access to audit reports at a time of growing acrimony between Washington and Beijing.

“China doesn’t want [companies] to disclose anything for national security reasons,” he said. “That is a very big question that has to be answered by the Chinese side.”

The threat of delisting has not stopped Chinese tech groups from selling shares on Wall Street, with these companies raising about $1.3bn from New York listings this year. Their shares rose 22 per cent on average on their first trading day, according to data from Dealogic.

“A lot of parties have a huge interest in these Chinese IPOs,” Tse added, pointing to the fee revenues enjoyed by the Wall Street investment banks. “How can they give that up?”

The broader Hang Seng index was little changed on Thursday.

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