Picture: REUTERS/ALY SONG
Picture: REUTERS/ALY SONG

Hong Kong — For clues on what Tencent Holdings’s shares will do tomorrow, look to the traders who got it spot on in August.

The options market is pricing in a 6.6% move for the stock either way following the internet giant’s third-quarter update after Hong Kong’s market closes on Wednesday. This would mark the biggest post-results reaction since August 2015, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Derivatives traders have also sent the cost of hedging Tencent — of which Naspers owns just more than 30% — to a one-year high relative to the Hang Seng Index, after the stock became twice as volatile as the benchmark.

Despite a $243bn loss of shareholder value since January that’s already broken all kinds of records, the outlook for some of Tencent’s most profitable businesses is getting bleaker: China’s economic slowdown is putting a lid on advertiser spending, while regulators are unlikely to loosen their grip on the gaming industry. Another warning sign came just last week with Japanese rival Nexon, which said sales in China will slump. A string of earnings shockers also roiled Chinese tech shares.

The release will be the first since Tencent reshuffled its structure, reducing the total number of business groups to six from seven. The company is also said to be scaling back its marketing to improve its cash flow.

“We expect short-term pain to linger,” China International Capital’s Natalie Yue Wu wrote in a November 9 note. “We appreciate that Tencent is trying to create synergy by restructuring, but we believe that it has to move faster, as growth of games has already slowed.”

Goldman Sachs is one of 11 brokers tracked by Bloomberg to have cut its price target for Tencent this month. In addition to challenges for gaming and ad sales, Goldman predicts weaker growth for Tencent’s payment unit as China’s consumer credit industry slows, according to a November 11 note.

Bullish analysts have been behind the curve throughout 2018, missing the 32% slump that’s made it the worst year for investors since Tencent first started trading in 2004 — by a wide margin. Despite recent cuts to earnings and targets, analysts on average still say the shares will rebound 50% in the next 12 months.

They expect revenue rose just 23% in the third quarter, the fourth consecutive period of slowing growth and the worst pace in more than three years. While Tencent has a low bar to beat this earnings season, tempered expectations didn’t stop the shares from dropping 3% after the last quarterly update in August.

A short squeeze just two weeks ago showed how painful it can be to bet against Tencent, even if an earnings-fueled rally lasts only a day.

With Cecile Vannucci

Bloomberg