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NYSE bans Chinese telecom stocks in second about-face of the week

The New York Stock Exchange will delist three Chinese telecommunications stocks to comply with an executive order from the Trump administration — its second about-face on the issue this week.

The exchange said Wednesday that it would end trading of shares in China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom on Jan. 11. The decision comes after President Donald Trump banned Americans late last year from investing in firms that the US government suspects are either owned or controlled by the Chinese military.

The NYSE has now abruptly changed its position on the issue twice, sowing confusion among investors and whipsawing the companies’ stocks.

The exchange first announced last week that it would bar shares of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. But it reversed course on Monday, citing “further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities.”

By Wednesday, the exchange had reverted to its original position, citing “new specific guidance” from the US Treasury Department that was delivered on Tuesday.

Confusion at the NYSE

The bizarre back-and-forth has left investors in the lurch. The three companies are also listed in Hong Kong, and shareholders sold holdings there on Monday before buying back in when the NYSE backtracked the first time.

Shares in New York fell on Wednesday following the latest announcement. China Telecom’s stock dropped 3.7%, while China Mobile fell 2.7%. Shares in China Unicom were off 2.3%.

The action is poised to ramp up tensions between the world’s two biggest economies shortly before President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.

The Chinese government has criticized the United States for “wantonly suppressing foreign companies listed in the country” and previously said it would take “necessary measures” to safeguard the interests of Chinese firms.

On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order banning transactions with eight Chinese apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent’s QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay. It’s not clear it has teeth, however, given that it’s due to take effect after Trump leaves office.

All three of the telecom companies have traded in New York for many years. China Mobile, the country’s largest telecom company, has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 1997. Rivals China Telecom and China Unicom, meanwhile, have been trading there since the early 2000s.

Trump’s order on firms with alleged military connections, which kicks in next week, gives investors until November 2021 to divest from financial instruments with exposure to such companies.

It’s part of a broader campaign the Trump administration has launched against China’s technology sector. Washington has also struck at the country’s artificial intelligence and semiconductor sectors in recent years.

— Laura He contributed reporting.

Article Topic Follows: Money

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