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A man walks past Tencent headquarters in China’s southern technology hub of Shenzhen on July 10, 2022. Photo: AFP

Tencent says no ‘external pressure’ to divest as it is dogged by reports on paring back sprawling portfolio

  • Tencent said it does not set divestment targets and previous offloading of and Sea shares were the result of over-performing stocks
  • The company has faced multiple media reports and speculation that it might reduce holdings in Big Tech firms like Meituan to avoid antitrust scrutiny
Tencent Holdings, China’s social media and video gaming behemoth, has denied that it is under any external pressure to downsize its vast investment portfolio amid multiple reports saying it plans to do just that.

“We don’t have any target amounts for divestments,” Tencent said in a statement on Thursday. “We have always invested with the goal of generating strong returns for our company and shareholders, not according to any arbitrary timeline or target. Nor have we received any external pressure regarding our investment portfolio.”

The Shenzhen-based company, China’s most highly valued technology firm that is known as “owning half of the mountains and rivers” in the domestic industry, issued the statement in response to a report from the Financial Times. The newspaper reported that the company planned to divest about 100 billion yuan (US$14.5 billion) of its US$88 billion listed equity portfolio in 2022, citing anonymous sources.

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This was just the latest report to raise questions about Tencent’s sprawling investment portfolio that spans video gaming, social media, finance, e-commerce and entertainment. The company’s vast holdings have also invited scrutiny from Beijing.
Last month, Reuters reported that Tencent planned to sell all or part of its 17 per cent stake in Meituan, which Tencent’s chief strategy officer James Mitchell called “not accurate”, without elaborating further. The Financial Times also said Meituan was a divestment target, as it could help reduce regulatory pressure.
The reports have come months after Tencent offloaded shares in last December and Singapore-based e-commerce firm Sea Limited in January.
Tencent offloaded US$16 billion worth of shares in, China’s second largest e-commerce platform, by distributing the shares as a special dividend to investors. It also raised US$3 billion by selling 14.5 million American depositary shares in Sea.

“Our most recent divestments, and Sea, were over-performing and generated many multiples on our initial investment,” Tencent said in its statement, adding that it will continue to make investment decisions “independently and in the best interest of our shareholders over the long term”.


Tencent narrows kids’ playing time on video games labelled ‘spiritual opium’ by Chinese state media

Tencent narrows kids’ playing time on video games labelled ‘spiritual opium’ by Chinese state media

Chinese authorities have never publicly ordered any of its Big Tech firms to downsize, but the Chinese leadership initiated a campaign in late 2020 to curb the “irrational expansion” of capital. The government also used antitrust laws to target tech companies.

Tencent, along with other firms, has been fined repeatedly for past acquisition deals – some going back years – that were not properly reported to Beijing for antitrust reviews.

The value of Tencent’s total assets dropped 9 per cent in the first half of the year to 1.46 trillion yuan, down from 1.61 trillion yuan at the end of last year. Its total payroll shrank by about 5,500 employees in the second quarter.

Speculation about more Tencent divestment has remained strong. Tencent’s shares in Hong Kong now trade at about the same price as in November 2019, losing more than 50 per cent of their value from their peak in early 2021.

The company remains the largest video gaming business in the world by revenue, but it has not been granted a single license for domestic distribution of any new titles in more than a year.

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Among its larger holdings in Chinese tech companies, Tencent owns 21 per cent in short video platform Kuaishou, and 15 per cent in both e-commerce company Pinduoduo and video streamer Bilibili.
Some of the listed companies backed by Tencent have helped bolster profit with strong returns. The company has cashed in on investments to shore up growth amid weakening consumer demand in a slowing economy, which has suffered since the country’s worst Covid-19 outbreak in two years.
In the second quarter, Tencent reported its first revenue decline since going public in 2004. China’s gross domestic product grew just 0.4 per cent for the quarter, the slowest pace since the country’s economy shrank 6.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020.