The U.S. is pushing ahead with its threat to delist Chinese companies

Fortune via Bloomberg | Nov 18, 2020

Potential Delisting of Chinese companies on US exchanges - The U.S. is pushing ahead with its threat to delist Chinese companiesThe U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is pushing ahead with a plan that threatens to kick Chinese companies off U.S. stock exchanges, setting up a late clash between Washington and Beijing as the Trump administration winds down.

By the end of this year, the SEC intends to propose a regulation that would lead to the delisting of companies for not complying with U.S. auditing rules, according to people familiar with the matter.

Agency officials have been moving quickly on a rule since August, when the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets -- a regulatory council whose members include SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- urged the regulator to pass new restrictions that could take effect as soon as 2022, said the people who asked not to be named in discussing private deliberations.

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At issue is a problem that has vexed U.S. regulators for more than a decade: China’s refusal to let inspectors from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board review audits of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Baidu Inc. and other firms that trade on American markets. The issue has gained added urgency due to rising tensions between the two countries and following this year’s high-profile accounting scandal at Luckin Coffee Inc.

The SEC move is unusual because most agencies stop issuing major new policies after a presidential election, especially when a new party is taking power. In addition, it’s unlikely the rule will be finalized before President Donald Trump’s term ends on Jan. 20. Clayton, who plans to step down by the end of the year, will also be gone before any regulation is finished. That would leave completing it to an SEC chief picked by President-elect Joe Biden.

By pushing through a vote, Clayton would force the SEC’s Republican and Democratic commissioners -- all of whom have years left on their terms -- to go on record in stating whether they support tougher rules for Chinese companies. Issuing a proposal also requires the SEC to seek

public comment and investor advocates would be expected to flood the agency with letters backing Clayton’s plan.

Plus, unlike many policies in this era of heightened partisanship, cracking down on China appeals to both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. In May, the U.S. Senate approved a bill without opposition that directs the SEC to start the process of delisting Chinese companies whose audits aren’t inspected by American regulators. All of these factors could put pressure on Clayton’s Democratic successor.

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The SEC declined to comment on the rulemaking plan. The Nasdaq Golden Dragon China Index fell 0.9% Tuesday, compared with a 0.5% drop for the benchmark S&P 500 index. The gauge, which tracks Chinese companies listed in the U.S., closed at a record high at the end of last week.

Fang Xinghai, the vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, sounded a positive note on resolving the issue at panel discussion on Tuesday, saying it’s important to ensure that Chinese companies have access to international capital markets.

“I think during the Biden administration we should be able resolve that problem because it’s not an intractable problem,” Fang said at the New Economy Forum. “All it takes is good will on both sides and a willingness on both sides.”

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