The Business Times

China stocks tumble in 'panic selling' amid education crackdown

Investors scrambling to price in growing risks; CSI 300, Hang Seng down more than 3%

Published Tue, Jul 27, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Hong Kong

A SELL-OFF in Chinese private education companies sent shockwaves through the country's equity market on Monday, as investors scrambled to price in the growing risks from an intensifying crackdown by Beijing on its industries.

Stocks slumped on the mainland and in Hong Kong, with the benchmark CSI 300 Index and the Hang Seng Index both tumbling more than 3 per cent. Education stocks plunged in the wake of a sweeping overhaul that threatens to upend the US$100 billion sector and jeopardise billions of dollars in foreign investment.

"I see panic selling in the market now as investors are pricing in a possibility that Beijing will tighten regulation on all sectors that have seen robust growth in recent years," said Castor Pang, head of research at Core Pacific Yamaichi. "I don't think investors can do any bottom fishing at this point. We don't know where the bottom is."

New Oriental Education & Technology Group plunged as much as 40 per cent in Hong Kong, extending Friday's record 41 per cent fall. It warned in a filing that the regulations will have a material adverse impact on the company. Koolearn Technology Holding tumbled as much as 35 per cent, the biggest decliner on the Hang Seng Tech Index, which fell as much as 7.1 per cent, its biggest fall ever. China Maple Leaf Educational Systems dropped 16 per cent.

Chinese regulators on Saturday published reforms that will fundamentally alter the business model of private firms teaching the school curriculum, as Beijing aims to overhaul a sector it says has been "hijacked by capital". The new regulations ban firms that teach school curriculums from making profits, raising capital or going public. Friday was already a bloodbath for the sector in both Hong Kong and the US, after a leaked document circulated on social media.

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The "worst-case became a reality", wrote JPMorgan Chase analysts including DS Kim in a note, saying it was uncertain whether the companies could remain listed. "It's unclear what level of restructuring the companies should undergo with a new regime and, in our view, this makes these stocks virtually un-investable."

Chinese education stocks have seen their market value fall more than US$100 billion since the beginning of this year, with TAL Education Group and New Oriental losing a combined US$65 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The latest reforms follow an unprecedented pace of regulatory tightening from Beijing, amid crackdowns on industries from tech to real estate. The government's moves to rein in the country's powerful tech firms such as Jack Ma's Ant Group and Didi Global have sent global investors fleeing. A campaign to cut leverage in the property industry has also weighed on builder shares, with a Hong Kong gauge of related firms falling to its lowest since February.

"Overall sentiment is really bad now," said Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital. "Regulations on the education sector were unexpected and are really negative for the general market."

Mainland investors have been net selling Hong Kong shares via exchange links in the city for a sixth straight day, on track for the longest streak since May 2019, according to Bloomberg-compiled data.

In the latest move, companies that teach school subjects can no longer accept overseas investment, which could include capital from the offshore registered entities of Chinese firms, according to a notice released by the State Council. Those now in violation of that rule must take steps to rectify the situation, the country's most powerful administrative authority said, without elaborating.

"Curriculum tutoring firms should remodel their businesses or even switch to a different industry as soon as possible," said Jiang Ya, an analyst with Citic Securities. "These measures are just the beginning and there is potentially an abundance of follow-up policies and continued tight regulation." BLOOMBERG

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