By Steven Russolillo and Alexandra Wexler
One of the oldest and largest investors in Tencent Holdings Ltd. plans to sell more than $10 billion worth of shares in the Chinese internet giant, partially cashing out of one of the world's most lucrative tech bets at a time of turbulence for the sector.
Naspers Ltd., a South African media and internet firm, said Thursday it plans to sell 190 million shares of Tencent, cutting its stake in the company to 31.2% from 33.2%. Those shares are worth about $10.6 billion based on Tencent's closing share price.
The sale represents a windfall for Naspers, which paid just $34 million for its stake in Tencent in 2001 -- before it went public -- a position that is now worth roughly $175 billion. It hasn't sold any of its Tencent stock before and said it won't sell any more of its shares for at least three years.
Tencent, best known in China for its WeChat messaging app and being the world's largest videogame publisher by revenue, has surged to become one of the world's most valuable technology companies. Its shares have nearly doubled over the past year, catapulting the company's market capitalization to about $532 billion, putting it ahead of Facebook Inc. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Tencent's shares fell 5% on Thursday in Hong Kong after the company's quarterly results, reported a day earlier, showed slowing revenue growth from mobile and PC games, one of its main profit drivers.
Naspers said in a statement that Tencent "understands and supports its intention to sell." Tencent declined to comment when contacted directly.
Naspers, which has become Africa's most valuable company in a large part because of its Tencent stake, said it would use the proceeds from the share sale to invest in its classifieds, online food delivery and financial technology businesses, as well as pursue other growth opportunities. Naspers shares fell 8.7% in response to the news.
The sale comes at a sensitive time for global technology stocks, which have been on a tear for much of the past year.
Facebook shares dropped 9% this week, with the company losing about $46 billion of its market value after a controversy over its handling of user information. The controversy has prompted renewed calls for governments around the world to better regulate giant technology companies that have amassed large volumes of user data. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has fallen in five of the past seven trading days, and is down 3.2% from its record high earlier this month.
The sale of Tencent shares could add more pressure to global tech stocks. Tencent, along with search giant Baidu.com Inc. and e-commerce titan Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., make up the three so-called BAT stocks that, because of their size, clout and market dominance in Asia, are routinely compared with the U.S.'s closely watched FAANG stocks -- Facebook, Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Netflix Inc. and Alphabet Inc.-owned Google.
A survey this week by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that the "long FAANG+BAT" trade -- meaning investors who have piled into these tech giants -- was the most crowded trade on Wall Street.
Nevertheless, Naspers will still be a major shareholder in Tencent and several other tech companies. The company, founded in 1915 as a newspaper publisher, also holds stakes in a host of other tech firms, including Mail.ru Group, a Russian internet company that runs two of the country's three biggest social networks; Delivery Hero, a food-delivery company based in Germany; and Flipkart, India's biggest e-commerce site.
Despite its large stake in Tencent and other investments, Naspers trades at a discount to the market value of its holdings.
In November, Naspers reported a 98% rise in half-year net profit to $1.1 billion, largely driven by its Tencent holding and its digital classified businesses, which turned a profit for the first time.
--Adria Calatayud contributed to this article.
This news has been published by title Tencent, The $500bn Chinese Tech Firm You May Never Have Heard Of
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