Power

The NYSE China flip-flop is part of a bigger battle between profit and accountability

Western investors want transparency. But what if guaranteeing that closes a door on the U.S. profiting from China's tech success?

The NYSE China flip-flop is part of a bigger battle between profit and accountability

The New York Stock Exchange can't decide whether to delist certain Chinese tech apps.

Photo: Julien Chatelain

The New York Stock Exchange's flip-flopping statements this week over the delisting of Chinese tech stocks highlight a longstanding dispute over how much access Chinese corporations should have to U.S. capital markets. It's a debate that some experts say pits profit against accountability, and one that will likely continue under the Biden administration.

The confusion began last week, when the NYSE announced that it would delist the stocks of three Chinese telecom companies — China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom — to comply with the Trump administration's order in November barring U.S. companies and individuals from investing in Chinese firms that work with the Chinese military.

The NYSE reversed that decision on Monday, only to change it again on Wednesday when it reaffirmed the plan to delist the stocks. Trading in the Chinese telecom company shares will cease at 4 a.m. Eastern Time on Jan. 11, the NYSE said.

The NYSE could not be reached for further comment.

Stephen Diamond, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said the exchange may have been caught flat-footed by yet another unexpected move by the Trump administration, which has been waging a bitter trade and economic war against China. "The NYSE just got caught in this whole mess that is Trump," he told Protocol. "It's like every other administrative effort. It's driven by Trump's ego, not by rational policy."

A report by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday suggested that U.S. officials are also considering a ban on Americans investing in Alibaba and Tencent.

The NYSE announced that its delisting would be pushed through after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told it that he disagreed with the reversal, according to CNBC. Diamond said delisting the Chinese companies' stocks was clearly not in the interest of the NYSE.

"They didn't want to do this in the first place, probably," he said. "The NYSE has been pretty aggressive about courting Chinese stocks. … It earns revenue from listing fees and trading commissions. … Their motivation is to obviously keep as many of these listings as they can."

Edith Yeung, a general partner at venture firm Race Capital, who writes the China Internet Report, said delisting Chinese companies could also drive many Chinese firms to other exchanges, shutting out U.S. investors from fast-growing businesses. Of the private companies globally that raised the most funding in 2020, the top 10 raised $13.6 billion combined, and six of those 10 were based in China, she said, citing Crunchbase data.

"The Treasury Department and the New York Stock Exchange need to make up their mind," Yeung told Protocol. "If U.S. IPO markets continue to jerk Chinese companies around, it will send a really unwelcome signal to these high-growth Chinese companies that maybe they should consider listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai instead."

But Diamond said the NYSE's move also turns the spotlight on longtime concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability from many Chinese corporations. The latest was Luckin Coffee, which was delisted from the Nasdaq after reportedly being under investigation after disclosing financial fraud. With many Chinese companies, "things like corporate governance or shareholder rights … don't exist in any meaningful way," he said.

Diamond cited the recent controversy over Chinese tech titan Jack Ma, who has reportedly been forced to keep a low profile amid an apparent dispute with the Chinese government. Beijing is reportedly pressuring Ant Group — the Chinese fintech that was on the cusp of a record-breaking IPO and for which Ma is the major shareholder — to share the financial giant's consumer-credit data.

"If Jack Ma disappears, what is CalPERS going to be able to do about an investment it makes?" Diamond said, referring to the California Public Employees' Retirement System, a major institutional investor. "Nothing."

"This whole issue of Chinese access to the U.S. capital market is a critical issue that has to get taken seriously by the new SEC and the new administration," he said. "As ham-handed and clumsy and, frankly, sometimes even racist some of the criticisms [by] the Trump administration have been of China, there is a real issue about transparency and accountability for Western investors."

In fact, the incoming Biden administration is widely expected to rebuild traditional U.S. alliances as a way to counter China's growing influence, especially on the economic front. Biden plans to meet with some of the world's major leaders at an international gathering called Summit for Democracy. China and Russia are not expected to be invited.

Charles Elson, a finance professor at the University of Delaware and a corporate governance expert, said the controversy over the delisting of Chinese telecom stocks underscores the balancing act that the NYSE is often forced to undertake.

"By delisting, you lose the revenue from those listings," he told Protocol. "By including those listings, you get the revenue — but there's a public perception issue. Are you supporting a position that's antithetical to the national interests of the United States?"
Fintech

Gavin Newsom shows crypto some California love

“A more flexible approach is needed,” Gov. Newsom said in rejecting a bill that would require crypto companies to get a state license.

Strong bipartisan support wasn’t enough to convince Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

The Digital Financial Assets Law seemed like a legislative slam dunk in California for critics of the crypto industry.

But strong bipartisan support — it passed 71-0 in the state assembly and 31-6 in the Senate — wasn’t enough to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Slack’s rallying cry at Dreamforce: No more meetings

It’s not all cartoon bears and therapy pigs — work conferences are a good place to talk about the future of work.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings,” Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua told Protocol at Dreamforce 2022.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dreamforce is primarily Salesforce’s show. But Slack wasn’t to be left out, especially as the primary connector between Salesforce and the mainstream working world.

The average knowledge worker spends more time using a communication tool like Slack than a CRM like Salesforce, positioning it as the best Salesforce product to concern itself with the future of work. In between meeting a therapy pig and meditating by the Dreamforce waterfall, Protocol sat down with several Slack execs and conference-goers to chat about the shifting future.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories
Bulletins