A worker wearing a face mask cleans the floor near a Baidu AI robot at the company's headquarters in Beijing, China, May 18 2020. PIcture: REUTERS/TINGSHU WANG
A worker wearing a face mask cleans the floor near a Baidu AI robot at the company's headquarters in Beijing, China, May 18 2020. PIcture: REUTERS/TINGSHU WANG

Hong Kong/Beijing — Chinese search engine giant Baidu is considering delisting from the Nasdaq and moving to an exchange closer to home to boost its valuation amid rising tension between the US and China over investments, three sources said.

Baidu, one of China's earliest US listings, is reaching out to some trusted advisers to see how it could best be done if it were to proceed, including looking at issues around funding and any regulatory reaction, the sources said.

The discussions are at an early stage and are subject to change, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is not public. Baidu declined to comment.

The company pointed to comments by co-founder and CEO Robin Li who told the state-controlled China Daily on Thursday that Baidu was paying close attention to the tighter US scrutiny of Chinese companies listed in the country.

“For a good company, there are many choices of destinations for listing, not limited to the US,” he told the newspaper.

The sources said Baidu believed it was undervalued on the Nasdaq exchange in New York.

Baidu's shares have fallen more than 60% since their peak in May 2018 while the Nasdaq Golden Dragon China Index, which tracks Chinese firms listed on the US exchange, has lost less than 10% over the same period.

Baidu's market capitalisation of $29.59bn as of Wednesday's close is only 5% of the market value of Alibaba, which has shares listed in Hong Kong and American Depository Shares listed in New York.

Baidu, Ctrip and NetEase have all held preliminary talks with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing about a possible secondary listing to follow Alibaba in establishing an investor base closer to China, Reuters reported in January.

US pressure

The latest move by Baidu also comes as US-listed Chinese companies face increased pressure amid heightened tensions between the world's two biggest economies.

The US Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that could stop some Chinese companies listing on US exchanges unless they follow standards for US audits and regulations.

The move is seen as an escalation of a long-running dispute between Washington and Beijing about giving US regulators access to Chinese audits.

Last week, a board overseeing the Thrift Saving Plan, a retirement fund for US federal employees and members of the military, indefinitely delayed plans to invest in some Chinese companies after pressure from the White House.

At home, Baidu has been struggling with a slowing economy and rising competition from domestic players such as Bytedance, the owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. In 2019, Bytedance launched a search engine in China, entering a sector traditionally dominated by Baidu.

Beijing-based Baidu posted a 7% drop in first-quarter revenue in 2020. While its sales were better than analysts had expected, it was the biggest year-on-year drop since the company went public in 2005.

Baidu generates the majority of its revenue from online marketing services, which include searches, news feeds and video apps.

Reuters

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