People walk past Tencent's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID KIRTON
People walk past Tencent's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID KIRTON

Beijing/Hong Kong  — Chinese gaming and social media company Tencent will hand a $16.4bn JD.com stake as a dividend to its shareholders, weakening its ties to the e-commerce firm and raising questions about its plans for other holdings.

Tencent said on Thursday it will distribute HK$127.69bn ($16.37bn) worth of its JD.com stake to shareholders, slashing its holding in China’s second-biggest e-commerce company to 2.3% from about 17% now and losing its spot as JD.com’s biggest shareholder to Walmart.

The owner of WeChat, which first invested in JD.com in 2014, said it was the right time to transfer its stake, given the e-commerce firm had reached a stage where it can self-finance its growth.

The divestment move comes as Beijing leads a broad regulatory crackdown on technology firms, taking aim at their overseas growth ambitions and domestic concentration of market power.

“This seems to be a continuation of the concept of bringing down the walled gardens and increasing competition among the tech giants by weakening partnerships, exclusivity and other arrangements which weaken competitive pressures,” said Mio Kato, a LightStream Research analyst who publishes on Smartkarma.

“It could have implications for things like the payments market where Tencent’s relationships with Pinduoduo and JD have helped it maintain some competitiveness with Alipay,” he said.

JD.com shares plunged 11.2% in early trade in Hong Kong on Thursday, the biggest daily percentage decline since its debut in the city in June 2020, before recovering partially to a 7% decline by 4.50am GMT. Shares of Tencent, Asia’s most valuable listed company, rose 4%.

The companies said they would continue to have a business relationship, including an ongoing strategic partnership agreement, though Tencentexecutive director and president Martin Lau will step down from JD.com’s board immediately.

Eligible Tencent shareholders will be entitled to one share of JD.com for every 21 shares they hold.

Portfolio divestments?

The JD.com stake is part of Tencent’s portfolio of listed investments valued at $185bn as of September 30, including stakes in e-commerce company Pinduoduo, food delivery firm Meituan, video platform Kuaishou, automaker Tesla and streaming service Spotify.

Alex Au, MD at Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager Alphalex Capital Management, said the JD.com sale made both business and political sense.

“There might be other divestments on their way as Tencent heeds the antitrust call while shareholders ask to own those interests in minority stakes themselves,” he said.

A person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters Tencent has no plans to exit its other investments. When asked about Pinduoduo and Meituan, the person said they are not as well-developed as JD.com.

Tencent chose to distribute the shares as a dividend rather than sell them on the market in an attempt to avoid a steep fall in JD.com’s share price as well as a high tax bill, the person added.

Kenny Ng, an analyst at Everbright Sun Hung Kai, said the decision was “definitely negative” for JD.com.

“Though Tencent’s reduction of JD’s holdings may not have much impact on JD’ actual business, when the shares are transferred from Tencent to Tencent’s shareholders, the chances of Tencent’s shareholders selling JD’s shares as dividends will increase,” he said.

SA technology investor Prosus, Tencent’s largest shareholder with a 29% stake, will receive the biggest portion of JD.com shares.

Payments processor Alipay is part of Tencent rival Alibaba Group.

Reuters

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