Hong Kong market move fuels speculation that R131bn Tencent stake is being sold

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Tencent Holdings shares worth $7.6 billion (R131 billion) appearing in Hong Kong’s clearing and settlement system has fueled speculation that a large stakeholder may be selling its holdings.

About 192 million of additional shares, representing about 2% stake in the Chinese tech giant, were registered on the platform as of Wednesday, according to city’s exchange website. While there are several reasons for a stake to appear, such a move is typically seen as a precursor to selling and investors pointed to its most dominant backer Prosus as the likely culprit.

The Dutch e-commerce firm owns a 29% stake in Tencent after its parent, Naspers, became an early investor more than two decades ago. In late June, Prosus said it planned to reduce its stake to fund a buyback program, adding pressure to the Chinese online game company’s stock. Shares slid as much as 2.8% on Thursday, taking their loss from a June high to more than 20%.

“People are worried that the big holder will keep selling their stake and there is no timetable when their sale will end,” said Steven Leung, executive director at Uob Kay Hian (Hong Kong) Ltd. “This kind of changes in the clearing system will always trigger worries that more selling will happen in near future.”Several global investors have trimmed their holdings in major Chinese firms in recent months, fanning concern of more selling to hit the market. That includes Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. paring back its stake in BYD Co., the nation’s biggest electric maker. SoftBank Group Corp. also has plans to sell its holdings in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.Naspers didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg email seeking comment. A spokesperson for Tencent declined to comment.

The stake reduction is likely the next setback for a company that’s seen multiple blows following Beijing’s broad regulatory crackdown and China’s slowing economic growth. Faced with declining revenue, Tencent has been looking to ease investor worry by cutting costs as well as selling off its own assets, which include online retailer JD.com Inc. and Singapore’s Sea Ltd.It’s also been buying back shares in the open market recently on a near daily basis, even though that’s not helped cushion broader market angst.

According to the company’s latest filing, Prosus sold over 3.9 million of its shares in the six months through June, trimming holdings to about 2.765 billion shares. Since the Dutch firm announced its stake reduction plan in late June, Tencent has repurchased about 25.8 million shares in total, based on Bloomberg calculations.

“There will be an overhang for Tencent for sure but given it’s not a block sale, should not be too negative,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners. “Shares dropped in the past few days partly due to more Naspers selling, but also due to macro concerns. Plus the crackdown on the tech sector of course.”

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