I NVESTORS ARE still speculating about exactly what Didi Global, a ride-hailing giant, did to draw the ire of Chinese regulators. Some say it foolishly pushed forward with its $4.4bn initial public offering ( IPO ) in New York despite being told by officials to delay the listing. Others suggest it stole the thunder from leaders in Beijing by kicking off trading on June 30th, the eve of the 100th anniversary of China’s Communist Party.
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Whatever its sin, Didi now says it plans to delist from New York and relist in Hong Kong. It has not specified its reasoning or responded to queries on the move. It is possible that the company has been forced to leave America by Chinese internet regulators. This is a fiasco for the firm and its shareholders, such as SoftBank, a Japanese investment group (whose share price has sunk by 8% since the delisting announcement). It also portends two big changes in how foreign investors will access Chinese shares in the future.
The first is the end of Chinese IPO s in America. Not long ago American exchanges were the leading destination for ambitious Chinese firms. Alibaba, an e-commerce behemoth which went public in New York in 2014, remains the largest American IPO in history. Didi was part of a recent groundswell of Chinese darlings keen to tap America’s deep capital markets. Some 248 Chinese groups with a combined market capitalisation of $2.1trn were trading in New York in early October.
Those listings have already been threatened by American rules that require all listed firms to provide access to internal auditing documents or be booted off exchanges. Chinese companies cannot readily comply because officials in their home country consider such materials to be “state secrets”. The dilemma goes back a decade but a law put into practice by the Securities and Exchange Commission on December 2nd will purge all non-compliant companies from American bourses by 2024. That could have potentially painful consequences for some investors.
Many have held out hope of an eventual agreement between American and Chinese regulators that would revive a once-booming cross-border listing business. However, the suggestion that Chinese regulators are behind Didi’s delisting—an unprecedented intervention by a foreign government in the American market—makes a deal much more difficult to strike, says Jesse Fried of Harvard Law School.