Global investors are running from Chinese tech stocks in the wake of the government’s crackdown on Ant Group and Alibaba, two high-flying businesses founded by Ma Yun (Jack Ma) that were once hailed as paragons of China’s new tech elite.
Shares of major technology companies in the country have fallen sharply in recent days, with Bloomberg calculating that Alibaba, Tencent, JD.com and Meituan have lost around $200 billion in value during a handful of trading sessions.
Already reeling from the last-minute halt of the public debut of Ant Group, a major Chinese fintech player with deep ties to Alibaba, the e-commerce giant came under new fire, as China’s markets watchdog opened a probe into its business practices concerning potentially anticompetitive behavior.
Ant Group was itself summoned by the government on December 26th, leading to a plan that will force the company to “rectify” its business practices.
Shares of Alibaba are off around 30% from their recent, record highs set in late October. Tech shares are also off in the country more broadly, with one Chinese-technology-focused ETC falling around 8% from recent highs, including a 1.5% drop today.
American depository receipts of Alibaba traded on the New York Stock Exchange fell from around $256 per share at the close of Wednesday trading to around $222 last Thursday. The company is down another half point today. It was worth more than $319 per share earlier in the quarter.
It’s clear that the rising tensions between China’s tech giants and the country’s ruling Communist Party have investors spooked. But Jack Ma’s relationship with the Chinese government has always been a bit more fraught than that of his peers. Ma Huateng (Pony Ma), the founder of Tencent, and Xu Yong (Eric Yong) and Li Yanhong (Robin Li), the co-founders of Baidu, have kept lower profiles than the Alibaba founder.
Bloomberg has a good synopsis of the state of the market right now. The companies that are most directly in the crosshairs appear to be Ma Yun’s, but at different times, Tencent has been the focus of Chinese regulators bent on curbing the company’s influence through gaming.
Specifically for Alibaba things have gone from bad to worse, and a boosted share buyback program was not enough to halt the bleeding.
Whether this new round of regulations is a solitary blip on the radar or the signal of an increasing interest in Beijing tying tech companies closer to national interests remains to be seen. As the tit-for-tat tech conflict between the U.S. and China continues, many companies that had seen their growth as apolitical may become caught in the diplomatic crossfire.
Other tech companies are seeing their fortunes rise, boosted by newfound interest from the central government in Beijing.
This is already apparent in the chip industry, where China’s push for self-reliance has brought new riches and capital for new businesses. It’s true for Liu FengFeng, whose company, Tsinghon, was able to raise $5 million for its attempt at building a new semiconductor manufacturer in the country. Intellifusion, a manufacturer of chipsets focused on machine learning applications, was able to raise another $141 million back in April.
Private investors may be less enthused at the prospect of backing Chinese tech upstarts who could face government censure should the regulatory winds shift. Whether other startup markets in the region — India, Japan, among others — will benefit from the Chinese regulatory barrage will be interesting to track in 2021.