Hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, China’s three telecommunications companies filed requests with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to review their delistings, seeking to reverse the November 2020 executive order by Donald Trump to expel them.
China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom said they asked for the trading suspension and delisting of their American depositary shares (ADSs) to be reversed while their review request is being considered. Under NYSE rules, a review must be scheduled at least 25 business days after receiving request.
“Investors are cautioned that there is no assurance that the company’s review request ad stay request will be successful,” according to a statement by China Mobile to the Hong Kong stock exchange, the primary market where shares of the world’s largest mobile phone network are traded.
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The NYSE first announced the delisting plan on New Year’s Day, in an unprecedented step to remove the ADSs of the three Chinese companies to comply with the Trump administration order that bars Americans from trading in companies with ties to China’s military. All three companies are state-owned entities managed by government-appointed managers.
Shares of the three telecoms companies fell amid a declining market in Hong Kong after their filing. China Telecom retraced 1.7 per cent to HK$2.29 after rising by as much as 1.7 per cent. China Mobile slipped by 0.1 per cent to HK$48.95, retuning its earlier 1.5 per cent intraday gain, while the shares of Unicom lost 1.8 per cent to HK$4.88.
Trump signed an executive order on November 12 that barred American investors from owning or trading shares of 44 companies that the US claims are owned or controlled by the Chinese military. It was one of a series of moves in the waning days of his administration to limit access by Chinese companies to American capital markets and technology.
American investors, including pension funds and university endowments, have until November 11 this year to divest their holdings in any designated Chinese military companies following the executive order last November.
The NYSE reversed itself several times ahead of the January 11 deadline as it sought additional guidance from regulators. The exchange said it would not delist the ADSs on January 5, only to make an about turn a day later.
The NYSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of US business hours.
Biden is expected to take a less combative approach in US-China relations, which have deteriorated to their lowest point in decades during the course of Trump’s tenure, which included a trade war and a range of disputes in everything from the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic to currency values and technology. China’s parting gift to the outgoing Trump administration officials was to sanction 28 of them including former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
There is likely to be a “softer tone” between Washington and Beijing following Biden’s inauguration, said Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of private equity giant Blackstone Group and a Trump supporter.
“To not have these two countries working in a cooperative fashion seems exceptionally odd and unproductive for the citizens of both of their countries,” Schwarzman said in a discussion at the Asian Financial Forum on Tuesday.
“It will take some time. In areas like climate, health, terrorism, as well as some economic issues, there’s substantial overlap in the interests of these countries and the interests of the world,” he added. “I expect to see much less tension. It would be hard to imagine escalating tension from here, frankly.”
Since their delistings, the telecoms companies’ shares have soared in Hong Kong and the city’s main benchmark hovered near 30,000 as mainland investors rushed to invest in Hong Kong stocks. Mainland funds spent HK$205.6 billion (US$26.5 billion) on Hong Kong stocks in the new year through Wednesday, according to Bloomberg data.
The three Chinese telecoms companies listed their ADSs in New York following their initial public offerings in Hong Kong, giving US-based and European investors access to trade their equities during US market hours.
China Mobile was among the first so-called red-chip companies to list in New York in 1997, joined by China Unicom in 2000 and China Telecom in 2002.
Their stocks were lightly traded in New York before their delisting and their US investors only accounted for between 5 per cent and no more than 12 per cent of their outstanding shares.
The ADSs also were fungible with their H-shares in Hong Kong, which means they could be exchanged for their counterparts, providing an exit option for investors ahead of the delisting.
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