The shares of China’s largest entertainment and tech companies plunged for a second day on Tuesday as Russia’s war in Ukraine, regulatory warnings and China’s slowing economy all combined to signal tougher times ahead.
Alibaba shares crashed 11.7% to reach an all-time low of HK$71.2 in Hong Kong, where they have a secondary listing. Tencent shares plunged by 10.2% to HK$298, their lowest in several years. Both companies have in the past held the title of China’s largest enterprise and are major components of the Hang Seng Index of leading equities.
The Hang Seng Index fell by more than 1,000 points and by nearly 6% on Tuesday to close at 18,415. That was even worse than Monday’s nearly 5% fall plunge. Hong Kong’s Tech Index fell even further, 8.2% to 3,569, a record low on Tuesday. In mainland China, markets were also rattled. The SSE Shanghai Composite Index was nearly 5% lower at 3,064. The SZCE in Shenzhen was 4.3% lower as 11,537.
In just four weeks, the Hang Seng Index has lost a quarter of its value, falling from 24,792 on Feb. 17, 2022. China’s Hong Kong-listed tech shares have been smashed down by 49% since Jan. 20, when the index stood at 5,896. They have lost two thirds of their value since peaking at 10,560 in February 2021.
Chinese entertainment companies listed on U.S. markets have not escaped the rout. NASDAQ-listed streamer iQiyi lost a quarter of its value on Monday, falling to just $2.11 per ADR share. Entertainment video firm Bilibili fell 10.8% to $16.96 per ADR. Games firm NetEase tumbled 9.6% to $71.53 per ADR.
The immediate trigger for this week’s crash has been signs that Beijing’s regulatory squeeze on the entertainment-tech sector has still not finished and growing signs of COVID returning to China.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal claimed an exclusive report that Tencent, the world’s largest games company in revenue terms, is to be hit with a record fine for breaches of regulations by its WeChat Pay network. In recent days Alibaba’s Ant unit revealed that it has disposed of its entire stake in financial publishing firm 36Kr, in yet another attempt to appease regulators.
Many investors have been asking themselves when the crackdown on China’s pioneering tech companies will come to an end. They have incurred multiple fines, been forces to divest assets, had IPOs canceled, been pushed out of sectors such as education that the government wants for itself, and in the case of Alibaba been ordered to make a multi-billion dollar gift towards the leadership’s ‘Common Prosperity’ initiative.
But with continuing regulatory uncertainty, U.S. investment bank JPMorganChase on Monday issued a note in which it downgraded its forecasts for 28 Chinese internet stocks including Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and Meituan. It labelled them “uninvestable” over the next six to twelve months due to rising geopolitical and macro risks.
The prospects of a clash between the governments of the world’s two largest economies is growing as the Russia Ukraine War moved into its third week, and weighed heavily on Asia’s share markets.
China has so far avoided calling the Russian assault on Ukraine an invasion. Foreign minister Wang Yi last week referred to Russia as China’s “most important strategic partner.” But on Monday, as U.S. and Chinese officials met in person in Rome, the U.S. presidency has warned China against helping Russia to avoid or get round its sanctions. “We’ve been clear there would be consequences,” said White House press spokesman Jen Psaki at a briefing.
Making local sentiment in China even worse are the rising numbers of coronavirus cases in mainland China. Omicron has been detected in 18 Chinese provinces and has pushed confirmed cases to a record high – albeit still small compared with many western countries.
The surge has caused growing numbers of lockdowns and mass testing operations in China, including in the Shenzhen mega-city that is home to Tencent and is sometimes described as China’s Silicon Valley. Local reports says that Tencent staff had been ordered to carry their computers, cables and chargers with them at all times, to enable them to stay connected and work even if they were caught in a snap lockdown.