MSCI to Remove China Telcos, Adding Pressure on Hong Kong Shares

Sales assistants work at a China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. store in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. China's state-owned telecommunications companies declined in Hong Kong after the New York Stock Exchange said it's delisting them to comply with a U.S. executive order that sanctioned companies identified as affiliated with the Chinese military. Photographer: Roy Liu/Bloomberg
Sales assistants work at a China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. store in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. China's state-owned telecommunications companies declined in Hong Kong after the New York Stock Exchange said it's delisting them to comply with a U.S. executive order that sanctioned companies identified as affiliated with the Chinese military. Photographer: Roy Liu/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- MSCI Inc. will remove China’s three major telecommunications companies from its benchmark indexes, adding fresh selling pressure to stocks that have swung wildly this week on confusion over whether they should be included in a U.S. ban on investments in Chinese companies with military ties.

The index provider’s decision to cut China Mobile Ltd., China Telecom Corp. and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. at the close of business on Friday will apply to the companies’ Hong Kong-listed shares. That means it could have a substantially larger impact on investment flows than the New York Stock Exchange’s closely watched decision on Wednesday -- after two about-faces -- to delist the companies’ thinly traded U.S. shares.

S&P Dow Jones Indices also said on Thursday it will remove the three telecom companies, after earlier canceling plans to do so in a series of flip-flops that mirrored those at NYSE.

The drama has confounded investors since Donald Trump issued an executive order in November barring investments in companies deemed by the U.S. to be owned or controlled by China’s military. The ambiguously worded order was part of Trump’s effort to punish China in the waning days of his presidency. His administration has sought to sever economic links and deny Chinese firms access to American capital, especially those judged to pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Read more: Behind the NYSE’s Swerves on Delisting China Stocks

Index providers including MSCI help guide the investment of trillions of dollars by exchange-traded funds, mutual funds and other money managers that closely track benchmark equity gauges. China Mobile is among the largest stocks in the MSCI China Index, with a weighting of about 1.1%, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The company’s New York-listed shares fell 6% at the close on Thursday, sliding a further 3.4% in extended trading after MSCI’s announcement.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, also compiles stock and bond indexes.

Investors are watching closely whether the U.S. will expand the scope of its investment restrictions to cover other blue-chip Chinese companies. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. led a selloff in tech stocks on Thursday after reports that the Trump administration is considering adding them to its list of banned companies. The two companies have a combined market value of $1.3 trillion.