© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Signs of China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom can be seen during China International Import Expo at the Shanghai National Exhibition and Convention Center
By John McCrank, Alexandra Alper and Pei Li
NEW YORK / WASHINGTON / HONG KONG / (Reuters) – The New York Stock Exchange could make a second U-turn in the flip-flop saga in which it decided to delist three Chinese telecommunications giants in the Trump administration and a backdrop of tensions within Washington Regarding China Policy.
The NYSE announced late Monday that it had decided to close China Mobile (NYSE 🙂 Ltd, China Telecom (NYSE 🙂 Corp Ltd, and China Unicom (NYSE 🙂 Hong Kong Ltd in light of regulatory consultations related to the US -Finance Ministry not delist Office for Foreign Property Control.
The NYSE made the decision based on uncertainty as to whether the securities were actually covered. However, if it is confirmed they are on the list, they will be delisted, a source familiar with the situation cited Tuesday. Bloomberg reported earlier that the NYSE could fly back.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had previously called New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham to inform her that he disagreed, like one with, with the NYSE's decision to reverse the course for delisting three Chinese telecommunications companies a source familiar to the matter announced on Tuesday.
Mnuchin has long been seen as reluctant to engage with China in order to thwart attempts by hardliners in the administration – many within the State Department – to crack down on Chinese companies.
"For years, the Treasury Department has been pulling rearguards to ease some of the stricter policies affecting Chinese companies," said Leland Miller, CEO of US-based consulting firm China Beige Book. "It is obvious that this is still happening."
Republican senator and Chinese hardliner Marco Rubio said in a tweet that any suggestion that the US Treasury Department caused the NYSE to roll back the ruling would be "outrageous".
"If it is true that someone at (Treasury) (NYSE) advised reversing the decision to delist these Chinese companies, it has been an outrageous effort to undermine (President Trump's) executive order," he tweeted .
Bloomberg reported that the NYSE was reconsidering its decision after the Mnuchin opposition.
The NYSE is owned by Atlanta-based Intercontinental Exchange Inc (NYSE :), which is headed by billionaire Jeffrey Sprecher, whose wife Kelly Loeffler, also a former ICE executive, is one of two Republican senators who will be in Georgia on Tuesday ahead of the runoff election stand. Loeffler is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump.
The Treasury Department declined to comment on the decision to keep the listings. OFAC, which is responsible for enforcing sanctions, declined to comment.
In the final weeks of Trump's presidency, the flip-flop has underscored the lack of clarity about the implementation and impact of the U.S. investment ban in 35 Chinese companies that are considered militarily linked, said Tariq Dennison, executive director of GFM Asset Management in Hong Kong.
Dennison's funds hold China Mobile shares in both Hong Kong and New York. He has closed New York positions almost entirely in search of investments from US clients who are less exposed to risk associated with the investment bans.
The decision also raised other questions about how the order will be handled by President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on January 20 and could easily revoke it. His transition team has refused to comment on any plans for the directive.
William Kirby (NYSE :), a Harvard Business School professor with a focus on China, said Monday that the Trump administration is using what is known as a "one-size-fits-all" in regulating Chinese companies, the Biden administration. Approach chosen would likely have company to company reviews.
Miller said that while policies on investment flows in Chinese companies were tightened last year, "many of these rules are likely to fall by the wayside".
The November ordinance bans U.S. investors from November 2021 buying shares in companies that Washington claims are owned or controlled by the Chinese military.
While the directive doesn't enforce delisting, a law signed by Trump in November will kick Chinese companies off U.S. exchanges if they fail to fully comply with the country's auditing rules in three years.
The NYSE had planned to delist the companies – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom – before Jan. 11.
A China expert who has worked with Congress on delisting issues said the NYSE may have turned around if they sought clarity from the Treasury Department about the rules and told them not to delist.
Others added that the reversal made sense for the stock market.
"China accounts for at least a quarter of the US (stock exchanges) foreign income. That's a smart thing," said Francis Lun, CEO of Geo Securities.
The Trump administration's November order prompted index makers like Russell and MSCI Inc to remove a dozen Chinese companies from their benchmarks list, but none removed the three telecom companies, all of which have large U.S. passive funds among their major shareholders .
Hong Kong-traded stocks of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom rose after the news.
The three telecommunications companies made statements that they had taken note of the NYSE's recent announcement and would publish information in accordance with regulations, adding that investors should be aware of investment risks.
China's State Department has expanded what it calls the United States to include the concept of national security to suppress Chinese corporations.
On Tuesday it was reiterated that the United States' status as an international financial center rests on the confidence that global corporations and investors have in the certainty of their rules.