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Cowed by China, ride-hailing giant Didi plans to leave U.S. stock market months after debut

Didi had pushed ahead with a $4.4 billion U.S. initial public offering despite being asked to put it on hold while a review of the company’s data practices was conducted.
Image: People walk past the headquarters of the Chinese ride-hailing service Didi in Beijing
China's leaders increasingly fret about who controls information gathered about its public by tech companies. Thomas Peter / Reuters

HONG KONG — Just five months after its debut, ride-hailing giant Didi Global said it plans to withdraw from the New York stock exchange and pursue a listing in Hong Kong — a stunning volte-face as it bends to Chinese regulators angered by its U.S. IPO.

Its shares soared 15 percent in pre-market trade as investors bet the move would appease Beijing and serve as a catalyst for a revival of its business prospects at home.

Didi had pushed ahead with a $4.4 billion U.S. initial public offering despite being asked to put it on hold while a review of the company’s data practices was conducted.

The powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) then quickly ordered app stores to remove 25 of Didi’s mobile apps and told the company to stop registering new users, citing national security and the public interest. Didi remains under investigation.

“Following careful research, the company will immediately start delisting on the New York stock exchange and start preparations for listing in Hong Kong,” Didi said on its Twitter-like Weibo account on Friday.

Didi did not explain its reasons for the plan but said in a separate statement it would organize a shareholder vote at an appropriate time and would ensure its New York-listed stock would be convertible into “freely tradable shares” on another internationally recognized stock exchange.

The upending of Didi’s New York listing — likely to be a difficult and messy process — illustrates both the huge clout that Chinese regulators possess and their emboldened approach to wielding it. Billionaire Jack Ma also ran afoul of Chinese authorities after blasting the country’s regulatory system, leading to the dramatic sinking of a mega-IPO for Ant Group last year.

The move will also likely further discourage Chinese firms from listing in the United States and could prompt some to reconsider their status as U.S. publicly traded companies.

Didi Begins Delisting On The New York Stock Exchange
Didi operates in 16 countries, though almost 90 percent of the 493 million customers who used the service at least once in the past year are in China.Future Publishing / Getty Images

“Chinese ADRs face increasing regulatory challenges from both U.S. and Chinese authorities. For most companies, it will be like walking on eggshells trying to please both sides. Delisting will only make things simpler,” said Wang Qi, CEO at fund manager MegaTrust Investment (HK).

Listing in Hong Kong might, however, prove complicated, particularly in a tight three-month timeframe given Didi’s history of compliance problems and the scrutiny it has faced over unlicensed vehicles and part-time drivers.

Didi said in its IPO prospectus it had obtained ride-hailing permits for cities that collectively accounted for the majority of its total rides. It has not responded to further queries about permits.

“I don’t think Didi qualifies to be listed anywhere before it ... sets up effective protocols to manage and ensure the drivers’ responsibility and benefits,” said Nan Li, associate professor for finance at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The Hong Kong bourse does not comment on individual companies, a spokesperson said. Shares in the exchange, however, jumped 4 percent on prospects of a Didi listing.

Didi provided 25 million rides a day in China, according to first-quarter data. It made its New York debut on June 30 at $14 per American Depositary Share, but those shares have since slid 44 percent until Thursday’s close, valuing it at $37.6 billion.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund owns 21.5 percent of Didi, followed by Uber Technologies Inc with 12.8 percent, according to a filing in June by Didi.