Beijing wants to force tech companies to withdraw from stock market
This would be the heaviest blow yet in the Chinese government's campaign against the domestic Internet industry, which has been going on for more than a year: According to the news agency "Bloomberg", the Chinese ride-hailing service Didi, which collected 4.4 billion dollars from investors when it went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in the summer, is to delist again on Beijing's orders.
After its IPO on June 30, Didi was valued at $68 billion - around $13 billion less than its U.S. competitor Uber is currently worth on the capital market. Still, the Chinese Communist Party, which celebrated its 100th anniversary a day later, did not find the Beijing-based tech company's success worth celebrating.
Regulators had reportedly raised concerns earlier that by going public in the United States, the U.S. government could gain access to data on passengers, destinations and video footage of Didi cabs in China. Didi reportedly did not pay much attention to the warnings. Two days after the IPO, the Chinese government subsequently banned the service from any new business and had the Didi app deleted from app stores in China, whereupon the share price of the freshly listed company on the NYSE plummeted.
Later, government officials from various agencies and ministries gained access to the company's headquarters for an investigation into the "cybersecurity" of Didi's business. There was speculation in China that the company was facing an "unprecedented penalty.
According to the "Bloomberg" report, this could be even higher than expected. According to the report, leading managers of the group had received an order from the regulators to work out a plan for a de-listing from the stock exchange in New York. Investors are to be offered at least 14 dollars per share for a buyback, the issue price at the time of the IPO. However, it is also conceivable that the company could be relisted on the Hong Kong stock exchange after a de-listing in New York.
The capital markets in Asia reacted promptly to the news on Friday morning. On the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the share price of conglomerate Softbank, which holds more than 20 percent of Didi, lost 5 percent by early afternoon. Because investors interpret the action against Didi as another blow to China's tech industry as a whole, the country's other major Internet companies also lost ground.
Tencent's share price on the Hong Kong stock exchange, for example, fell by more than 3 percent by the afternoon. Alibaba's share price also lost by a similar amount. Meituan, a delivery service where food can be ordered in more than 1,000 Chinese, even sank in price by more than 4 percent.
In fact, most observers assume that the campaign by China's government to regulate tech corporations, which until recently were extremely powerful and consistently held by private hands, is far from over and is just picking up steam. One can only speculate about the reasons why Beijing accepts that the successful companies lose immensely in value and are virtually maimed by the harsh state intervention since virtually nothing leaks out from the leadership, which operates exclusively in secret.
However, it can be deduced from speeches by state leader Xi Jinping, editorials in the party press and the government's five-year plan presented in the spring that the influence of Internet companies on the everyday lives of the 1.4 billion Chinese has become too great for the CP and that the companies are to be brought under the de facto control of the state. Moreover, according to Xi's vision, the tech providers are investing in the wrong areas.
The state leader is clearly not happy that the innovative power of Alibaba, Didi & Co. has so far produced business models that allow the companies to earn money from the consumption of Chinese consumers. Xi, however, wants the tech companies to develop hardware such as semiconductors. Because China has so far been unable to produce competitive high-performance chips, it has to source them from the U.S., among others.
In the case of smartphone maker Huawei, which Washington has cut off from American chips, that has highlighted the People's Republic's vulnerability in the trade war. Therefore, in order to achieve self-sufficiency, the party has laid out a plan for a "dual cycle." By this is meant that the Chinese state and private sectors should develop globally leading high technology in a joint national effort.
Beijing began to show how private Internet companies are to be brought into line with the party last fall. At the time, it canceled the IPO of financial services company Ant Financial at almost the very last minute after founder Jack Ma publicly criticized the government for regulating it too strictly. The stock price of Ant's parent company Alibaba has since lost 56 percent of its value to date. Shares in games developer Tencent, which the party accused in the spring of dumbing down Chinese youth and acting in a monopolistic manner like Alibaba and other internet companies, have since fallen by almost 40 percent.