Shares in China’s state-owned telecommunications companies slumped over sell-off concerns in Hong Kong trading on Monday, after they were earmarked for delisting on the New York Stock Exchange. Investors also shunned other potential victims of a US executive order that sanctions companies purportedly controlled by the Chinese military.
Shares of China Mobile, the country’s largest telecom company, fell as much as 4.5% on the first trading day of the new year to their lowest level since 2006. China Telecom dropped as much as 5.6% and was hovering close to its 52-week low, while China Unicom Hong Kong was down as much as 3.8%. The largest Chinese oil companies, including CNOOC and PetroChina also declined on fears that they could be booted out from American exchanges.
The three companies’ American depositary receipts will be suspended from trading on Jan. 7, and the process of delisting them has started, NYSE said in a statement late last week. The three telecom companies said in separate statements that while they have not received delisting notifications from the exchange, the move could affect the prices and trading volume of their shares.
“The liquidity, trading volume and fundraising functions of the ADRs have been relatively low, therefore the direct impact of a potential delisting would be rather limited on the companies’ growth and general market performance,” the China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a question and answer posted on its website on Sunday.
The move “completely disregards the actual situation of the relevant companies and the legitimate rights and interests of global investors and severely undermines normal market rules and order,” it said.
Calling the move politically motivated, the commission said the ADRs of the three companies amounted to a total market value of less than RMB 20 billion (USD 3.06 billion), or a combined 2.2% of their total equity.
Although the delisting is a “slight shock, the key remains whether the three listed telcos will be subject to the US investment ban,” Jefferies analysts led by Edison Lee in Hong Kong said in a report. “We can only wait for the Department of Treasury’s publication of the final list to be sure.”
The move by NYSE is the latest salvo in the worsening relationship between the world’s two largest economies. However, it is at best symbolic as trading volume of the three telecom companies in New York is a fraction of their respective turnover on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Investors’ focus now rests on whether the companies will face a US investment ban, which bars American investments in Chinese companies identified to be owned or controlled by the military.
The impact from the delisting could be limited as shares in the three companies have already dropped by between 21% and 28% since President Donald Trump’s executive order on Nov. 12 that identified 35 Chinese companies identified to be owned or controlled by China’s military, analysts said.
Analysts said that while US investors now have the option to swap their ADR holdings in the companies for the Hong Kong-listed shares, they would be forced to exit completely if the Treasury Department’s investment ban list includes them. Such a move would pressure the Hong Kong-listed stocks, they said.
“Amid increased uncertainty, investors may view these stocks as lacking defensibility and hence might become reluctant to hold the stocks,” Citigroup analyst Michelle Fang in Hong Kong said in a report. “Potential removal from indexes, such as MSCI and FTSE, could also cause large selling of the Hong Kong-listed shares from global passive and indexed funds.”
The three companies were not included in the initial list of Chinese companies to be excluded in indexes compiled by MSCI and FTSE Russell. The latter on Monday is expected to announce possible changes in its indexes.
China Telecom has the highest U.S. ownership, at 30.12% of free float, and will take 52 trading days to clear for investors to exit based on average daily volumes, Jefferies estimated. China Unicom’s ownership will take 17 trading days, and China Mobile will take 21 days to clear, they said.
China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday said that the country will protect the rights of Chinese companies and hoped the two countries could work together to create a stable business environment.
Analysts said other Chinese oil companies could be next in line for delisting as they are crucial for the Chinese military. The U.S. Department of Defense has already included CNOOC’s parent, China National Offshore Oil Corp., as a Chinese military company.
CNOOC dropped as much as 5.7% in Hong Kong on Monday but pared losses to end the morning session down 2.4%. PetroChina, which fell as much as 2.9%, recovered to finish 1.3% lower by the midday break. China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, closed the morning session 0.9% higher after being down 1.4% earlier.
The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, which reflects the overall performance of mainland securities listed in Hong Kong, ended the morning session 0.2% lower after dipping as much as 0.8%. The benchmark Hang Seng Index was up 0.6% in early afternoon trading.