The Trump administration’s determination to limit US investment in China meant Chinese company delistings from US markets were inevitable. Still, the speed at which things are moving is a surprise.
The New York Stock Exchange has already begun the delisting process for China’s three largest state-run telecom operators. Trading in China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom will be suspended as early as this week.
The trio made it on to the Pentagon’s list of companies suspected of having Chinese military ties last year. It was reasonable for investors to expect action to be relatively slow paced. Regulations that require Chinese companies listed in the US to follow US audit disclosure requirements give the companies until next year to comply.
An unexpectedly rapid delisting has knocked Chinese telco share prices. But the companies, which are also listed in Hong Kong and do not use US markets to raise money, will suffer limited damage. Sectors targeted next may not be so fortunate. Finance, tech and energy are all in the line of fire. Most of the 200 plus Chinese companies currently listed in the US fall under one of these categories.
Some of China’s biggest oil companies, including Cnooc, are already on the US list of companies with military links. Tech companies have been a longstanding target too. Those looking for funds have much to lose. Despite Beijing’s ongoing efforts to ease restrictions in local markets, local listings remain more complicated than listing in the US. Regulatory crackdowns on groups such as Alibaba make alternative overseas funding sources more attractive. Listings by Chinese start-ups raised about $5bn from New York last year, in spite of geopolitical tensions.
Last year’s equity market rally pushed the market cap of Chinese companies listed in the US to more than $2tn. But the risks to both Chinese companies and US investors warrant a mark down. Index provider MSCI is set to remove 10 Chinese stocks from its indices, while the US audit rules contradict China's ban on companies sharing audits with foreign governments. More delistings will come.