Chinese Tech Stocks Slump as US SEC Begins Rollout of Law Aimed at Delisting

March 26, 2021 Updated: March 26, 2021

WASHINGTON/HONG KONG—Shares in dual-listed Chinese companies fell sharply on Thursday in Asia after the U.S. securities regulator adopted measures that would kick foreign companies off American stock exchanges if they do not comply with U.S. auditing standards.

The move by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adds to the unprecedented regulatory crackdown in China on domestic technology companies, citing concerns that they have built market power that stifles competition.

The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in December, is aimed at removing Chinese companies from U.S. exchanges if they fail to comply with American auditing standards for three years in a row.

The rules also require firms prove to the SEC they are not owned or controlled by an entity of a foreign government and to name any board members who are Chinese Communist Party officials, the SEC said in a statement Wednesday.

In Hong Kong, the news prompted a sharp sell-off of the U.S.-listed Chinese companies which have also listed on the city’s exchange in the past two years.

Baidu Inc shares—which debuted on Tuesday—closed down 9.65 percent Thursday, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd slipped 3.9 percent, JD.Com Inc fell 3.57 percent and Netease Inc was down 2.25 percent.

The falls came as the broader Hong Kong Hang Seng Index dropped 0.07 percent and a 1.2 percent fall in the Hang Seng Tech Index. The tech index has fallen 11.3 percent in March.

“A lot of investors thought the U.S. and the Biden administration would be more amicable towards China and things would be easier, but this news shows that it is going to be just as tough,” Wealthy Securities Managing Director Louis Tse said.

DailyFX strategist Margaret Yang said the Chinese-listed stocks were also under pressure after it was reported that the Chinese regime was considering creating a state-backed joint venture with domestic tech firms to oversee user data they collect.

“The latter probably marks a further tightening of government control over the technology sector,” she said.

But shares in Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, operator of the city’s stock exchange, rose 3.35 percent which Kingston Securities director Dickie Wong said was the result of investors expecting more homecoming listings from China’s U.S.-listed stocks.

The SEC fast-tracked the rules around how companies should submit documentation because it was required to issue them within 90 days of the Act becoming law.

The SEC is now seeking public comments on a process for identifying companies that fail to meet the standards.

Some analysts said U.S.-listed Chinese firms may be unable to comply with U.S. accounting requirements because they could risk violating Chinese law.

“It is quite difficult for China to open the accounting of all U.S.-listed companies to U.S. regulatory agencies, especially for some listed companies that involve national security or national data,” Everbright Sun Hung Kai strategist Kenny Ng said.

The new rules come amid simmering tensions between the United States and China, with bipartisan support for a tough U.S. approach.

Last week in Alaska the two countries held their first high-level meeting under President Joe Biden’s administration, with both sides leveling sharp rebukes of the others’ policies.

Efforts under the Trump administration led to dozens of Chinese companies being delisted from U.S. exchanges and over-the-counter trading platforms in recent months due to allegations of Chinese military affiliations.

The SEC said it was still assessing how to roll out the rest of the law’s requirements, including the identification process and trading prohibition requirements.

By Katanga Johnson and Scott Murdoch